THE BIG SICK (USA/15A/120 mins)
Directed by Michael Showalter. Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano.
THE PLOT:
Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comedian who moonlights as an Uber driver in Chicago. Or maybe that’s the other way around. At one of his shows, he’s heckled (negatively) by sparky Emily (Zoe Kazan). They chat afterwards and an instant attraction develops. That progresses to a hook-up. Emily is not really in a position to date and have a relationship right now, but she’s continually drawn to the honest Kumail. He has obligations of his own to his Pakistani family, where an arranged marriage is expected. Emily finds out and they have an argument. Shortly afterwards, she ends up in a medically-induced coma after being struck down by a mysterious illness. While she’s sleeping, Kumail watches over her and bonds with her laid-back parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano)…
THE VERDICT: When a film is drawn from a real-life experience, it takes on another dimension. Someone is sharing a part of their life with the world, so it becomes that bit more tenable to an audience. ‘The Big Sick’ is based on the courtship of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, from their initial spark through to a challenging period when he wasn’t quite her boyfriend but still acted like one. This could have been TV-movie-of-the-week stuff, a weepie with all heart and no humour. Thankfully, Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is so sharp and spot-on in its observations of these imperfect but decent characters.
The film’s major plus point is its wicked, well-judged sense of humour. Much like Nanjiani’s stand-up routines, the humour veers on the fringes of the potentially controversial at times. Asked about 9/11 by Terry, Kumail delivers a cutting response. Though, there’s no indication that he actually means it. That’s the beauty of the humour here – you can laugh without feeling guilty about it. It’s a delicate balance, but the humour is true to life in all its messiness and imperfections. If you can’t laugh at life, then you may need a humour transplant. Later scenes involving Emily feel honest and atypical of a movie of this kind.
Many of the laughs come courtesy of the slightly dim Terry, delivered with perfection by the deadpan Romano. Kazan continues to delight with her quirky performances – we really should see more of her. She’s absent for a large part of the film, yet her presence is missed and certainly felt. The real find here though is Nanjiani, who has been acting for a number of years. If you didn’t know him before, then you’ll certainly remember him after seeing this film. Essentially playing himself, he’s frequently hilarious and also touchingly self-aware, challenging his family’s traditional views. The banter with them is a highlight. ‘The Big Sick’ is a touching, bittersweet delight, buoyed by a brilliant script and wonderful performances. If only more romcoms could be this simple and yet sophisticated.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    As a genre, romantic comedies are not easy to get right so “The Big Sick” is a real triumph. A truly original romance, this film is based on the real-life courtship between screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It’s their warts-and-all love story, one which hits many barriers including a nasty break up and
    a serious illness. Comic Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) plays a fictionalized version of himself, a Pakistani-American struggling to make it in stand-up while messing up the rest of his life on the side. Directed by Michael Showalter, we follow the giddy start to their romance, its many ups and downs and right through to when Emily is put into a medically induced coma. However you feel about romcoms, put those thoughts aside, I guarantee that you will love this movie!

    The story introduces us to Kumail, who was born and raised in Pakistan, but moved with his family to Chicago when he was a boy. He’s an Uber driver but also a stand-up comedian and alongside his talented (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant) and not-so-talented friends (Kurt Braunohler), he routinely tries to make a roomful of people laugh. While onstage one night, a young girl engages in some “heckling” from the audience. That girl is Emily (Zoe Kazan) and from that first encounter, Kumail is smitten. So begins a flirty, sweet, modern and playful romance that has many ups and downs. The main problem is that Kumail can’t tell his traditionalist parents (the excellent Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) about her. They are already against his comedy career. Instead they want him to take his LSAT and settle down with a suitable Muslim wife via an arranged marriage and so they invite a string of Pakistani-American women to the house each night in, who just happened to “drop in” (a superbly done running joke). When Emily learns of Kumail’s many prospective wives, she is understandably livid and the relationship reaches a bitter end. Only a few weeks later, Emily falls ill with a serious and unexplained illness and Kumail is called to the hospital to allow her doctors induce a coma. It may sound gloomy but the laughs keep coming, especially when Emily’s parents Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) arrive on the scene. Kumail has never met them until now and they are forced to bond while Emily is in a coma, despite the fact that they know he is the cause of their daughter’s heartbreak. Gradually their initial dislike of Kumail
    softens and a warm relationship develops as they come to rely on each other
    for help and support.

    Performances are universally outstanding here and much of the comedy comes from the cast’s spot-on delivery. Nanjiani and Kazan are terrific, they have an easy and heartwarming chemistry together and there is an undeniable sweetness to their courtship from the start. Zoe Kazan is very smart and easily holds her own against Nanjiani, who draws from his own Pakistani culture for material. When you consider that Kazan spends much of the film on a hospital bed, she succeeds in making a very strong and lasting impact in her scenes. Kumail gives a superb lead performance with the perfect balance of humour and charisma. There’s no doubt about it, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the show on many occasions. One is feisty, tough and brash while the other is somewhat more open and friendly but a bit dopey. However, they both share an unflappable love for Emily. Hunter gives her character a nice touch of maternal warmth while Romano does great work as a Dad who just wants a peaceful life. His inability to correctly tell a joke is one of the film’s best runners and had me
    laughing each time.
    This is an utterly endearing and truly authentic movie and one of the very best I have seen this year. It’s a big hearted and relentlessly funny comedy that has you laughing from start to finish. At just over 2 hours (rather long for a romcom), never once does it lose momentum and moves at a brisk pace throughout, interweaving multiple story threads. In fact, I was sad when the credits started to roll! Everything is right – the direction, performances, the writing, the many inappropriate comments from Kumail and the humour to be found in the Pakistani family dynamics. Smart, wise, silly, sweet and hilarious, it’s the kind
    of comedy that makes me wish they could all be as good as this one.