Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani’s story is an interesting one. In his new movie, The Big Sick, Nanjiani (playing himself) tells the story of how he and his wife met. While the film does add a few plot points to the couples courtship, it tells a mostly true story. The Big Sick isn’t shy about the normal story beats that accompany a break-up to make-up tale. Yet, it is the characters that embody this tale and the way they tell it that sets it apart. The Big Sick is the romantic comedy for people who don’t like them.
Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is directed by Hello, My Name is Doris writer, Michael Showalter. As mentioned, the movie tells the story of Kumail and the meeting of his wife Emily (Zoe Kazan). In the movie, the two meet after one of Kumail’s set at a comedy club in Chicago. Growing up in Pakistan and eventually moving to the U.S., he comes from a strict muslim family. After swearing they’ll never see each other, the two continue to date even when Kumail’s mother is trying to set him up in an arranged marriage. Kumail and Emily’s chemistry is beyond doubt. Kazan is solid in the role even when most of her screen time occurs in the films first half.
Kumail is tortured by his desire to branch out, all the while not leaving his family behind in the process. He doesn’t pray, has no desire to seek courtship with the women his mother finds and wants to pursue being a stand up comedian against his mothers advice. He doesn’t even want Emily to know all of this, but when she finds out, he seemingly realizes he can’t put his family through the stress of disowning him.
Even after Emily succumbs to the titular big sick, Kumail is still conflicted. That is what makes the movie so unique. Rom-com formula usually dictates everything becomes clear once the main character suffers pain. It takes meeting Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, for him to appreciate what he has lost. Romano is great in this role, as is Hunter. The two play off each other well and have some issues of their own at hand.
Even through all the changes for the sense of film storytelling, nothing ever feels disingenuous. Romano and Hunter perfectly epitomize the concerned parents. Terry (Romano) takes a liking to Kumail and gives him the benefit of the doubt while Emily is in a coma. Due to some strife in the days before Emily becomes sick, Emily’s parents aren’t keen on him being there, so there is some tension. But Terry sees himself in Kumail to some degree. To the same point, Kumail understandably find s solace in Terry and Beth due to the sheer fact, they are nothing like his family. Though his parents are often presented as stern, we get it. Kumail’s brother Naveed is the crown jewel of the family. He married within the culture, has a good job and he is a good muslim.
The Big Sick isn’t afraid to dive into the confusion of love and family. It often has a fresh take on it. It’s dialogue feels refreshingly natural and insanely clever. Chief among the movies best qualities, it is hilarious. Nanjiani’s sharp wit and comedic timing play so well throughout the film and he often find humor in situations that don’t always warrant it. That is part of the beauty of this film. It has some terrific moments of awkward comedy that are laugh out loud funny. Romano and Nanjiani play off each other well and their chemistry creates some of the more memorable jokes found in the movie.
Like any production with Judd Apatow’s name attached (he produces the film) The Big Sick is a tad overlong. Coming in around two hours, there are some pieces that definitely could have been trimmed down a bit. Contradictory to that point, it never feels like it drags along, nor was I ever bored with it. The humor keeps hitting and moves the film along at a consistent enough pace to somewhat earn its runtime.
The formula is always there and tempting The Big Sick to succumb to being an ordinary rom-com. Fortunately, it never bends. Strong central performances by all of its talent actors, and irreverent and always funny humor blend to give us one of the best of the year, and one of the strongest romantic comedies in recent memory. It is full of heart and keen observations on every day human conditions. The Big Sick feels more like real life than any movie I’ve seen recently. That is always a welcome feeling in what is typically the most superficial season of movie releases in any give year. This isn’t your summer blockbuster, but it’s a poignant look at culture clashing and imperfections.