REVIEW: The Big Sick

11 07 2017

I’m all about a good cross-cultural romantic comedy (I can probably recite every line of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by heart), so “The Big Sick” was right up my alley to begin. Kumail Nanjiani’s true story ups the ante, though, by adding significantly greater dramatic stakes. An early dinner scene with his Pakistani family contains discussion of a relative who dared to marry outside the Muslim faith and have a mixed baby – “it’s like he’s dead,” someone says. “No one will visit.”

Despite half-heartedly entertaining his mother’s parade of eligible wives, Kumail (playing himself) falls for Zoe Kazan’s Emily after she gently heckles him during a stand-up set. She’s a stark contrast to the bland, eager-to-please Pakistani women, to say the least. Willing to push back on his requests and call out his good-natured mansplaining, Emily overwhelms him, as he does for her.

Like any relationship, Kumail and Emily’s faces setbacks … not the least of which being a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into a medically-induced coma. (With a chilling montage of Kumail walking through the hospital, director Michael Showalter immediately and effectively shifts the tone in a more somber direction.) This development puts him into contact with her parents, Ray Romano’s calmly neurotic Terry and Holly Hunter’s frazzled mama bear Beth, who do not exactly hold him in the highest regard. Over time, though, Kumail comes to learn from them and appreciate the geographic, cultural and gender hurdles they had to surmount to make their relationship work.

“The Big Sick” is not reinventing the wheel of the dramedy, but it’s still worth commending for a number of reasons. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, his real wife (spoiler alert!), tell a story that’s specific and personal but never too precious. It’s distinctively theirs with a little something to offer all of us. And while a good chunk of the film deals with Kumail’s comedy career, Showalter’s camera is judicious. He knows the value of a quick reaction shot. The way he captures the full lay of the land in any given scene demonstrates how the non-verbal alchemy of an actor can enhance a great story beyond the words on a page. B+ /

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