Kumail Nanjiani began his standup career in Chicago in 2006. One night during his routine, he is heckled by a grad student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) and "The Big Sick" is their story of falling in love despite cultural differences and serious illness.
Directed By Michael Showalter ("Hello My Name is Doris", 2015) and produced by Judd Apatow ("Trainwreck", 2015) and Barry Mendel ("Trainwreck", 2015), "The Big Sick" is actually co-written by Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani started the process alone, but soon Gordon, who is really a therapist and successful author in her own right, started supplying her notes on their budding relationship --- and the rest, as they say, is history. Kind of like how David and I started writing together ---
Nanjiani and Emily initially were not looking for any commitment. He employed a "two-day rule", which was supposed to prevent them from spending too much time together. That, however, went out the window rather quickly, but what Emily didn't know was that Nanjiani's parents, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) and Azmat (Anupam Kher) were still planning on an arranged marriage for their youngest son.
Nanjiani, himself, is rather conflicted about who he is and what he wants. He endures his mother's constant introductions to lovely Pakistani women at the family's Sunday dinners, with no intention of ever pursuing these potential marriage partners. He is ambivalent about his religion, which he can't bear to tell his parents.
But Nanjiani is committed to his standup comedy. He performs regularly in Chicago and surrounds himself with other comics. After Emily ends their relationship, he is forced to re-evaluate his life, but nothing changes until Emily becomes seriously ill and ends up in an induced coma.
Nanjiani is now forced to deal with Emily's overprotective parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who have arrived in Chicago from North Carolina to care for their only child. The three adults must contend with their doubts about each other and the critical nature of Emily's illness.
Apatow and Nanjiani had become friends and when Nanjiani pitched his idea for a movie based on this remarkable story, both Apatow and Mendel knew they had to make this film. The script took three years to perfect, but "The Big Sick" is certainly a very different kind of romantic comedy.
Nanjiani is truly delightful and has a wonderful screen presence. The dinner scenes with his parents and his older brother, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) and his arranged-marriage wife, Fatima (Shenaz Treasury) are beautifully written and flow with the naturalness and humorous reactions of a real-life family.
I was particularly struck by Kher's performance. Portraying Nanjiani's father, he exudes charm and eloquence. And he's especially effective in the scene in Nanjiani's decrepit apartment when he reminds his son that he's being selfish --- and the American dream is not just doing whatever you want --- it's about being a good son, husband and father.
Though I will probably be in the minority on this, the one disappointment for me in "The Big Sick" is the casting of Kazan. I find her chemistry with Nanjiani lacking --- I simply don't believe these two click, as obviously Nanjiani did with the real Emily. The real-life Emily presents a very sexy vibe, while Kazan's image is slightly quirky. The writing is amazing, and though Kazan acts the part well, I do not buy any strong connection between Nanjiani and her.
It's incredibly difficult to pen a successful romantic comedy. "The Big Sick" is more of a romantic dramedy. It's a wildly different experience and the fact that it's true makes "The Big Sick" even more unique. Nanjiani and Gordon have a bright future ahead.
Opinion: See It Now!
"The Big Sick" is not a particularly inviting title for a film. However, this romantic dramedy made me laugh... and cry...and laugh again. And then I cried some more. Any film that can engulf the moviegoer with such a deep emotional impact must have something special.
And "The Big Sick" does, indeed. Excellent writing, superb acting, expert direction, and more --- it is easily one of the best films of this, or any other, year.
Please refer to Jeanne's review for her usual competent synopsis. I must point out that "The Big Sick" is one of those films where, years from now, you might stumble on a clip or photo, and know exactly what is happening in the script. That's because the story is so involving, and the characters so richly drawn.
We've seen the clash of cultures many times in films like "The Namesake", but I can't think of any other in the genre that leaves as much of an impression. The hilarious dinner scenes with Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and his family are vaguely reminiscent of "Little Miss Sunshine", although perhaps not as outrageously funny. It's tough to top Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Toni Collette and Greg Kinear.
But Kumail's trials and tribulations --- mainly keeping his relationship with an American girl a huge secret --- are a big part of the story. His mother, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), in particular, is completely enamored with marrying her son to a Muslim woman. Her standard line when there is a knock on the door? "I wonder who that could be?" Neither she nor her husband, Azmat (Anupam Kher), don't understand that an arranged marriage is their tradition, not their son's.
Even if Kumail's story was fiction, "The Big Sick" would be a delight. The fact that it is based on true events in the actual courtship with Emily makes it that much more rewarding. Of course, Kumail and real-life wife Emily Gordon collaborated on the screenplay, but Emily is portrayed in the film by Zoe Kazan. She is perfect. Despite what Jeanne says about the actress, she is completely convincing that she genuinely likes this goofball Muslim guy. When she falls prey to a mysterious illness and the doctors induce a coma, the tone of the movie takes a dramatic turn.
But the humor remains, largely because of the great writing, and the performances of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents. When Kumail invites them to one of his stand-up routines, even as their daughter is comatose in her hospital bed, all hell breaks loose. A muscle-bound, baseball cap-wearing doofus heckles Kumail with a stupendously stupid remark about Isis, and Beth (Hunter) takes matters into her own hands. What could have been a debacle on film is simply another priceless sequence. Credit goes to director Michael Showalter, who captured the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival for "The Big Sick".
Throughout this film, the camera catches every reaction, whether in the hospital room or the stand-up venues. Cinematographer Brian Burgoyne and film editor Robert Nassau deserve huge accolades for their work. And the other cast members, mainly Kumail's fellow comics, help to lighten the emotional load of Emily's trauma. Chief among these are Bo Burnham and Kurt Braunholer, plus Aidy Bryant of SNL fame.
In the end, though, this is Kumail and Emily's story. It is hilarious, heartwarming and generously told. If I may borrow a phrase from the late, great Roger Ebert, "I love this movie!"
Opinion: Strong See It Now!