AMAZON STUDIOS / LIONSGATE (2017)
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff
Comas, 9/11 jokes, poo gags and overbearing parents.
Welcome to The Big Sick.
Based around the real-life romance of star Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and his writer wife Emily V. Gordon, the movie plays as a rom-com but gladly eschews the standard trappings of the moniker, rather focusing on the people and the emotion ahead of huge belly-laugh silliness. Don’t fret, however, as the jokes are crammed in the two-hour runtime.
An unsuccessful, yet spirited, stand-up comedian and Uber driver, Kumail seems to drift through days. Living in a room fit for a college student on an air mattress, he probably doesn’t drift too well through the nights. His traditional Pakistani family is desperately attempting to find him a wife for an arranged marriage, but they all end up in his photo box of potential suitors. One evening whilst performing his stand-up act, he is playfully heckled by a young American trainee psychiatrist, Emily (Kazan). After the gig, they get talking and end up hooking up for the night. No messing about there,
Despite constantly agreeing to stop seeing each other, the two grow closer and closer together, providing perfect foils for one another. The sticking point is Kumail cannot tell his parents for fear of their disapproval and exile from the family whilst Emily has been raving to hers. Unfortunately for Kumail, Emily finds his photo box of potential wives and, funnily enough, isn’t pleased at all. As Kumail releases they can probably never be together, Emily breaks it off. Following this, Emily is rushed to hospital and put into a medically-induced coma (authorised by Kumail). As her parents, Beth (Hunter) and Terry (Romano) arrive, Kumail is given the cold shoulder for his treatment of their daughter. As he refuses to go away, the three will just have to learn to get along.
Showcasing your own personal story to the world is a brave move for anyone, but when it ends up as entertaining as The Big Sick, then we should be grateful that Kumail Nanjiani did just that.
Throughout, the movie is always entertaining without being glib. The idea of a couple getting together before some unseen circumstance forces them apart is nothing new, but what the team does here is to present a believable duo who you can become invested in, rather than simply creating a polished, fantasy image with their leading stars a la most other rom-coms. By becoming invested, the story follows a deeper, more affecting path which ultimately leads to a more satisfying experience. In order to become invested, the main characters had to draw you in and make you want to root for them through whatever life throws at them. No problem.
Nanjiani and Kazan work wonders together as the opposites that attract. Nanjiani’s geekiness and affability connect brilliantly with Kazan’s eccentricities and straight-talk in ways that propel the movie and create seemingly natural chemistry and humour. You see clearly how conflicted Nanjiani is between his love and his family and the role is played with (experienced) ease. Kazan, in turn, is delightful as the off-the-wall girlfriend and is even enthralling whilst comatose, thanks in part to her pre-illness performance. Their awkward connection to each other is great to watch. As her parents, Hunter and Romano are great together – Romano being the more sensible, cautious of the two with Hunter’s character a ball of anger, defiance and warmth, they combine extremely well together and bloom as the movie rolls on. Nanjiani’s family members (Bollywood and stage legends included) are fantastic, providing constant jokes without ever being portrayed as the bad guys. The movie doesn’t drag out the cultural difference gags and doesn’t betray the religious beliefs or attempt to undermine them, which is refreshing.
Illness shouldn’t be funny. It isn’t funny. The Big Sick never makes light of the illness but does use it to great comedic and emotional effect. Whether it be the news of Emily’s decline or using her thumb to unlock her iPhone whilst she is comatose, her plight hangs over the movie allowing Nanjiani, Hunter and Romano to shine through. Crucially, The Big Sick isn’t guilty of overplaying its hand and becoming manipulative in its attempt at emotional storytelling – the key moments are handled delicately and genuinely with no forced mawkishness hurled at you. The comedy was handled in just the same way. Sure, there are gags galore but they are natural rather than staged (stand-up aside…) and more subtle as opposed to telegraphed. Whatever the case, this is still a very funny movie.
Some of the jokes didn’t hit, the side-story with Nanjiani’s stand-up pals is more miss than hit and whilst part of the fabric of Nanjiani’s experience, it didn’t seem to fit comfortably in this movie. Could the movie have been cut by a few minutes? Yes, probably, especially towards the end however the runtime wasn’t sprinkled with filler material nor did it have any real stretches that dragged.
The Big Sick is essentially a warm movie with positive messages, but it’s also packed with some black comedy, social reflections and emotional punch. Every element is well balanced ensuring the movie doesn’t spiral into emotional blackmail or loses its soul to overcooked comedy. It’s a fine movie that’s anchored by great performances and story that you can’t help but fall into.
September 5th 2017