Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

The Big Sick

The Big Sick

What to make of a romantic comedy that, on the surface, appears similar to a hundred other romcoms?  This critically acclaimed indie is a bit different.  Backed by (Judd) Apatow Productions, it has a strong pedigree, and it was written by stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, chronicling their courtship (at this junction, is it a spoiler to say it has a happy ending?).  The Big Sick also walks two tightropes.  First, it addresses Nanjiani's immigrant struggle to assimilate his young adult American lifestyle with his family's traditional Pakistani culture and do it without becoming preachy or political; second, as the title suggests, it faces Emily's mortal struggle with a life-threatening illness without becoming maudlin.  It mostly succeeds on both counts.

One night, as he is performing his stand-up act at a small comedy club, Kumail gets involved in a cute exchange about the nature of heckling with a young woman, who turns out to be Emily (Zoe Kazan).  They hit it off immediately, but such is the nature of romcoms, neither is in the market for a relationship at the moment.  She is a grad student in psychology at the University of Chicago and he is trying to get his comedy act off the ground while making ends meet as an Uber driver.  Yet they can't stay away from each other (and she always has a ride home).  As their relationship grows, so does their commitment.  But so does a secret Kumail harbors: his traditional Pakistani family wants her to meet a traditional Pakistani girl.  His dinner-time visits to his parents' home are as awkward as they are transparent, given his mother's "Look who just happened to drop in" matchmaking, but they also point up the cultural dilemma he faces, and it soon becomes a matter of choosing between family and love.  Kumail is afraid of telling Emily about his family, and he cannot tell them about her.  The time for an easy explanation long past, when the truth comes out, the secret becomes a lie Emily cannot tolerate, and she breaks off the relationship.

Time goes by, and both are moving on, but then the dilemma announced in the title occurs.  Emily is stricken by a puzzling illness, one that is life-threatening.  Kumail is the first to the hospital, but soon Emily's parents arrive.  Terry (Ray Romano), tact-challenged for a college English professor, and Beth (Holly Hunter), a straight-shooting Southern woman who was raised in a military family intent to pick up the baton from Kumail and have him go on with his life.  But Kumail won't go away.  It is here where the main course of the film is served, as Kumail, the man who broke their little girl's heart, tries to justify his presence, Beth vacillates between fretting and confronting, and Terry awkwardly plays peacemaker, trying to understand Kumail's position while trying to avoid Beth's underlying wrath directed at him.  This is also where the dual-tightropes converge: the journey from alienation to understanding even as Emily's life hangs in the balance--and to do it all with humor and grace.

The film started off slowly, and initially, only some of the jokes landed--it's hard to tell whether or not this was intentional because a significant part of the first act takes place in comedy clubs among comics, some of whom with greater aspirations than talent.  Nanjiani and Kazan are a cute couple, and they bring believable romantic chemistry, and his Pakistani family is as likeable as it is stereotypical: Azmat (Anupham Kher), the reasonable but henpecked father; Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), the no retreat, no surrender mother; and Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), the "good" brother who dutifully grew a beard and married a Pakistani girl.  But the scene--and movie--stealers are Romano and Hunter.  Like the comedy veterans they are, they inhabit their roles, making their line-delivery organic, thus taking a sometimes uneven screenplay to heights that might even earn awards.  Director Michael Showalter, a long-time comedy writer, takes on his biggest project to date and earns even bigger ones in the future.
8.0 out of 10 on the Entertainment Scale
7.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (Will challenge for a number of Indie "Spirit" Awards; Possible Golden Globe - Best Picture, Comedy/Musical, Screenplay; AMPAS: Supporting Actress (Hunter) and Original Screenplay are long shots).


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