The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, and Adele Akhtar
Relationships require a lot of work in general; add in complicated and unexpected life events and it makes it even harder. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer Emily V. Gordon are married, their relationship was struck with a difficult life event and they turned this scary encounter into a script that is the basis for the film “The Big Sick”.
It’s not hard to guess what happens in the film, the title alone is spoiler enough, but how the film develops the relationship between a comedian looking for an opportunity and a college student trying to focus on her future is the big accomplishment here. While the film exists within the stranglehold of romantic comedy familiarity, the performances and narrative do not. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan have exceptional chemistry and the depth of the narrative keenly interweaves the relationship drama with cultural concerns/misunderstandings. “The Big Sick” is one of those films that will charm you into submission.
Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling Pakistani comedian, working on his set in a nightclub with other comics looking for a break. Kumail comes from a family of devout Muslims, with a mom (Zenobia Shroff) and dad (Anupam Kher) who are looking to arrange a marriage for their son. Kumail, born and raised in Chicago, is living the American life; when he tells his parents that he is going to pray before dinner, he is actually looking at videos on his phone. Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), she heckles him during a set, and after some persuasion from Kumail the two get serious. Kumail keeps his new relationship from his parents, but he also keeps his parents intentions to marry within his culture from Emily. When Emily finds out the two break-up, then Emily falls ill, forcing Kumail to deal with everything that he has been trying to avoid.
Romantic comedies have a tendency to operate in very familiar and formulaic ways. “The Big Sick” is familiar at times but it is far from formulaic. What keeps it from trending the same territory with the same results is the accomplishment of the performances and the narrative tone that keep the developments fresh and somewhat off kilter.
Mr. Nanjiani has a natural appeal, he has a deadpan way of telling a joke but can also switch to a serious demeanor quickly. Zoe Kazan is consistently good, a great counterbalance to her costar. Ms. Kazan is offered a few moments, especially during their breakup, that are heart breaking to watch. Veteran actors, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, play Emily’s parents. Ms. Hunter is fantastic and Mr. Romano is offered room to let his specific style of comedy to shine through. It should also be noted that famed actor Anupam Kher, who has done more than 500 films and has won numerous awards for his Hindi films, plays Kumail’s father.
The narrative does a great job creating authenticity within certain scenes. While one film might turn the illness aspect into the primary focal point, “The Big Sick” would rather display how people cope and deal with difficult situations and how culture treats aspects specific to family and raising children. While Emily’s parents may seem completely opposite of Kumail’s parents, they are actually both trying to setup the best future for their children. While one film might use the environment of a standup comedy club as an easy way to incorporate jokes, this film instead focuses on the dynamic of how vulnerable and isolating it would feel to be on a stage trying to connect with strangers, similarly to how Kumail may feel as a Muslim living in America or how he may feel being in a mixed relationship. It’s all handled with care, with attention given to the small and sometimes complicated bits that flesh out a script and make characters more relatable and stories more authentic.
“The Big Sick” hits so many satisfying notes it’s almost impossible not to find something that makes you smile. The jokes are sweet but also edgy and the romantic qualities are sincere, add in some really great performances and the combination is an enjoyable trip down relationship road.
4.25 out of 5.00