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Review: The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick (2017)

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Premise: Based on a true story. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) falls in love with Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan). Nanjiani’s family is Pakistani and his parents expect him to marry a woman of his own background. Meanwhile, Emily gets very ill.

What Works: The Big Sick has a lot going for it but one of the film’s most impressive qualities is the way it manages to be several films at once and does all of them well. This is primarily a love story between two people of different cultural backgrounds. Kumail Nanjiani is a struggling standup comic whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. He meets Emily, a young white woman studying to become a therapist. Although she’s not looking for a relationship, the two of them fall in love anyway. Movie romances require two essential ingredients. First, the picture must possess two people who the audience will want to see get together. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are a likable on screen couple. They are partners and equals and the film includes private details about their relationship that feel authentic and makes the love story convincing. The other element required by a successful love story is an obstacle keeping these two from getting together. There are a number of things doing that in this story and they make The Big Sick more than it first appears. In addition to being a love story this is also an immigrant story. And in particular it is the story of the son of immigrants. The Big Sick dramatizes the tension between the old world and the new one; Nanjiani’s parents demand that their son marry a Pakistani woman and that their courtship follows the standards and practices of their culture. The parents are played well by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff and the tension in the family is complicated. Nanjiani’s fear of losing his family is one of the obstacles in his love story but it’s also a dramatic end in its own right with implications about his identity and the possibilities of his future. The relationship between Nanjiani and his parents is only half the immigrant story. The other half is his relationship with Emily’s parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. They have to overcome latent racism while dealing with their daughter’s serious illness and this is done in a convincing way that does not congratulate itself on its own liberality. Ray Romano and especially Holly Hunter are terrific in their roles. Among the producers of The Big Sick is filmmaker Judd Apatow and the film has some of the hallmarks of Apatow’s brand of filmmaking. In particular, The Big Sick successfully balances drama with comedy and the filmmakers show excellent sense for when to go for a laugh and when to hold back.

What Doesn’t: The movie’s focus on Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with dueling sets of parents overtakes The Big Sick, so much so that Emily becomes a supporting character in her own love story. Actress Zoe Kazan makes a big impression in the first third of the picture and it’s enough to carry her character through the rest of the movie while she is unconscious. But for what is ostensibly a love story, one of the key players is omitted from a lot of the action. The filmmakers attempt to make up for that in the ending but that creates a tension in the movie. In order to satisfactorily resolve the love story The Big Sick needs the extra screen time but the rhythms of the film dictate that it should come to a close. The Big Sick runs a little too long, mostly in the back end, as the film strains to wrap everything up. In the end it does complete the story in a way that is crowd pleasing but also feels cliché. That may sound like a silly thing to say about a movie based upon a true story but The Big Sick might have been more effective and more surprising if it had altered the events and concocted a downbeat ending.

Bottom Line: The Big Sick is a terrific mix of comedy and drama. It satisfies as a love story but there is a lot more going on in this film. This is a smart and sensitive movie that’s very funny but also has something to say about commitment and cross-cultural relationships.

Episode: #658 (July 30, 2017)