The Big Sick

Romantic comedies that showcase genuine honesty seem to be rarer and rarer in this age of obviousness and cliche. The Big Sick has the advantage of coming a place of authentic honesty. After all, the screenplay, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, is based upon the first several months of their relationship as it really happened. Obviously, some elements have been fictionalized or exaggerated, and the general trajectory of the romance (which includes the inevitable break-up and equally inevitable reconciliation) is typical of the genre. The honesty remains, though, and that in itself is an achievement worthy of note.

Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American comic who has risen within the last decade from podcast host to funnyman on stage and screen, plays a version of himself within his and his eventual wife's screenplay, named Kumail and also a stand-up comic. His sketch routines are in their earliest heyday as the story starts, and he spends his evenings at comedy clubs engaging with audiences as best as he can, his strict upbringing in Pakistan and by parents (played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) who embrace the fundamentalist traditions of their faith informing his comedy.

He meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of those shows, where she interrupts his routine (He politely reminds her that, while her interruption was well-meaning, it was still heckling the performer). They spend the night together, agree never to see each other again (despite the faces of both parties understandably conveying the desire to see each other again immediately), and, well, start a sweet romance almost immediately after that agreement. He battles irresistible attraction to a white woman during the process of parents trying to arrange his marriage to someone of his culture and, naturally, avoids any mention of Emily.

There is, as mentioned, the inevitable break-up, which occurs when Emily discovers that Kumail might be trying to hide her existence from his parents. They go their separate ways, and then Emily gets sick. The identity of the illness is evasive for several weeks, during which she is placed in a medically-induced coma (the "good kind of coma," Kumail says at one point). Staying in the waiting room means, of course, that Kumail must meet Emily's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both superb as polar opposites), whose marital strain is lengthened by their daughter's condition.

Disrupting the expectation that this premise must only be dramatic, the film is also, at times, riotously funny, and that's because Nanjiani, Gordon, and director Michael Showalter (whose almost-invisible shot compositions suggest a filmmaker who is letting his screenplay run the show, which isn't a criticism but more of an observation) have an instinctive understanding of how to play this material. The two lead performances also factor, with Nanjiani performing a courageous kind of honesty and Kazan conveying the effects of illness surprisingly well. The Big Sick is a romantic comedy that is genuinely romantic and honestly funny, and it makes the combination seem remarkably easy to achieve.

Film Information

Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail), Zoe Kazan (Emily), Holly Hunter (Beth), Ray Romano (Terry), Adeel Akhtar (Naveed), Anupam Kher (Azmat), Zenobia Shroff (Sharmeen), Kurt Braunohler (Chris), Bo Burnham (CJ), Aidy Bryant (Mary), Vella Lovell (Khadija).

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

Rated R (language including sexual references).

119 minutes.

Released in select cities on June 23, 2017.

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