The Big Sick (R) ★★★★

Zoe Kazan, Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romono and Holly Hunter star in ‘The Big Sick.’ Photo: Amazon Studios / Lions Gate

 “The Big Sick” Will Cure the Blockbuster Overload This Summer

Many romantic comedy films can be fairly sappy with the main crisis being some variant of “will they or won’t they.” In fact, it’s pretty rare when a romantic comedy breaks the mold and explores serious societal issues in anything but a silly way, which makes the achievement of the new romcom, The Big Sick so remarkable. Not only is there a heartfelt love story at its core, but the movie intelligently deals with issues surrounding race, religion, family and even illness. Based on the real-life experience of the film’s star, Kumali Nanjiani, and his wife Emily Gordon (who also co-wrote the movie), The Big Sick is a solid film that provides laughs and tears. 

The movie begins with a comedian Kumail, played by Kumail Nanjiani (Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, 2016) describing to audience what it was like growing up in Pakistan through a series of funny jokes. Kumail is still struggling to break through as a stand-up comedian and works as a part-time Uber driver in Chicago. As Kumail performs before his hometown crowd (with an important comedy booking agent in attendance) his set is thrown when a young woman in the crowd shouts something that interferes with his rhythm. After the show, Kumail approaches the woman and tells her that yelling during a comedy set, even if it’s a positive comment, is still considered “heckling.” The two playfully banter back and forth. Eventually, Kumail finds out her name is Emily (Zoe Kazan, Our Brand is Crisis, 2015) who is a grad student studying to become a therapist. They end up spending the night together, and the next morning they agree that they’re both too busy for a serious relationship and that they shouldn’t see each other again. Their connection was undeniable, however, and the pair continues to see each other, eventually becoming a serious couple. 

Unfortunately, for Kumail, his parents, who are traditional Pakistani Muslims and still essentially adhere to arranged marriages (which is how they got married), insist that he marry a Pakistani girl. At dinner one evening, Kumail’s parents even mention how a Pakistani friend of theirs married a white girl and was cut out his family. Through a hilarious montage, Kumail gives audiences a preview of traditional Pakistani matchmaking. Each time Kumail comes home for a family dinner the door rings, and a mannerly Pakistani girl just happens to “drop in” with a photo to remember them by as part of a clear set-up from his mother. Kumail is perfectly polite with these women but doesn’t follow-up with any of them post-dinner, which frustrates his parents who still don’t know about his relationship with Emily. Further complicating things is that Kumail has also kept his parents’ demands for him to marry a Pakistani girl a secret from Emily…until she discovers the photos of the girls in a box. He eventually confesses why he has of all these photos, and she quickly realizes why she has never been introduced to his parents. This hastily leads to a blow-up fight. 

After a few weeks of being apart, Kumail receives a call, out of the blue, that Emily is in the hospital and that someone close by must come to her side. When Kumail arrives, Emily is not pleased to see him, but the situation is diffused as her symptoms flare up and they need to put her in a medically induced coma. Kumail must now call Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter, Batman v. Superman, 2016) and Terry (Ray Romano, Ice Age: Collision Course, 2016), who arrive the next day. Beth and Terry thank Kumail for calling and staying by her side but are not fans of his as Emily told them everything and suggest he can leave. As Emily continues to battle her mystery illness in a coma, Kumail is forced to deal with his personal struggles as well. Kumail has a lot on his plate as he’s not only balancing his family, culture and his own feelings for Emily, he wants to help her parents cope with the illness and continue to develop his comedy career.

Kumail Nanjiani, who co-wrote this movie with his wife, found the perfect team of collaborators to help bring his story to life – Judd Apatow produced the film and Michael Showalter directed. From an acting standpoint, Nanjiani, who is best known for playing the hilarious Dinesh Chigtai on HBO’s Silicon Valley, does an incredible job in his first leading role on the big screen. Although he is essentially playing a fictional version of himself, it does not diminish the effect it will have on audiences and the range of emotions it will provoke. Zoe Kazan is solid in her role as Emily along with the skilled veterans playing her parents, (Hunter and Romano). The film drives home the family dynamics that Pakistani immigrants face while living in America, yet also provides a number of laughs to keep it light enough for a summer audience. 

Bottom Line: Although this may not get the same attention as the summer Blockbusters, The Big Sick is well worth seeing in the theater.

Credits: Directed by Michael Showalter; Written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail), Zoe Kazan (Emily), Holly Hunter (Beth), Ray Romano (Terry), Adeel Akhtar (Naveed), Zenobia Shroff (Sharmeen), Anupam Kher (Azmat)

Studio: Amazon Studios / Lions Gate

Running Time: 124 

Jessica DeLong © July 15, 2017