Film review: “The Big Sick” (2017)

“The Big Sick” (2017)



Running Time: 124 minutes

Written:  Kumail Nanjiani & Emily V. Gordon

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Featuring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar and Anupam Kher

Terry: “Let me give you some advice, Kumail. Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love.”

Kumail: “I don’t really get that.

Terry: “I know. I thought I could just start saying something and something smart would come out.”

This has not been the greatest years for comedies; they have been high on concept but low on results. The laughs this year seem to have been delivered by action films with comedic moments, the funniest arguably being “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), that is until now.

“The Big Sick” (2017) is a love story, comedy with drama sprinkled over the top, to give it some risk as well as peril for its cast of characters. Oh yes, its also based on a true story, being written by real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. This is a film that focuses on their real life relationship, their meeting and the realities of a mixed culture relationship, that had real consequences for both of them – it makes compelling story-telling as well as reliable and constant laughs throughout this movie. It is also expertly directed by Michael Showalter whose last film was the excellent Sally Field starrer “Hello, My Name is Doris” (2015) – he is also a talented and in demand television director.

The movie revolves around Kumail is a comedian living in Chicago trying to make it in the industry while driving for Uber in his spare time. His entire family is from Pakistan, so they are Muslim and regularly set Kumail up with various Pakistani women in hopes of continuing the tradition of an arranged marriage, much to Kumail’s annoyance. During one of his shows, he is heckled by Emily, a woman in the audience. After the show they hook up and begin to date.

If you have never heard of the principal Kumail Nanjiani who hear plays himself in the movie, you are missing out on an excellent stand-up as well as a very accomplished character actor, he can be seen on the HBO hit comedy “Silicon Valley” which is in now in its fourth season, and there he plays Dinesh Chugtai, one of the mainstays of the how. Nanjiani has also appeared in many other television shows as well as movies, he is extremely talented as well as a podcaster. In fact he hosted a podcast about the X-Files that he is a self confessed fan of, he even appeared in an episode of the revival series. This is heighted in “The Big Sick” in really nice ways that act as a homage to this love. However in his first real starring role as a Chicago based Pakistani stand-up, playing a version of himself he hits it for six.

Seeing this film described as romantic comedy as I have read is a bit if a misnomer as it is so much more than that, it has elements of comedy as well as romantic tropes, but it also contains a hefty bit of drama as well as, of course, biography. So it is reductive to describe it or limit it to one genre as this film is so much more than a typical romantic comedy – this actually elevates the genre to a new level as it also combines what it is to be stranger in a strange land as well as being seen as not only the eternal outsider but possibly some enemy of the state, that is always seen as the metaphorical ‘other’ in society.

Now while this is a story about a relationship, as well as family, the acceptance of new cultures as well as how people behave when they are trying to please almost everyone else but themselves, this story is also exclusively told from the point of view of Kumail, and almost nobody else, in fact everyone else’s experience is told through Kumail eyes so we are only seeing what he sees and everything else is really a mystery. This is a vital difference between other films with similar narratives as we really begin to understand why Kumail keeps the different strands of his separate, he has commitments to his family which he is being dishonest about as well as trying to keep up with some kind of commitment to Emily, who he is also being dishonest to. This becomes important as the story takes hold and we start to see the kind of scrutiny and pressure that Kumail has been put under but also the kind of pressure he has put himself under. At times it is not an easy watch to see the main character come under real threats emotionally but this story does have a happy ending – and if you have missed it this is co-written by Kumail and his wife, Emily.

The director of this feature is Michael Showalter who has been given a cracker of a script, so he does have his work cut out for him, in fact the director whose last film was the excellent “Hello, My Name is Doris”, does something here he did there, that is build the film around an untested leading man by giving him some great supporting actors to work with who know how to play drama as well as extremely funny comedy. At the top we have Zoe Kazan who inhabits her role as Emily, who never seems out of her depth playing her part, then we have Ray Romano and the great Holly Hunter as her parents. Hunter and Romano both play their parts with equal part humor as well as dramatic as any part could be. Hunter you would expect to be great, but Romano is the one that is the real surprise as a typical clueless Father who relies on his wife for answers as well as decision making, a typical male who befriends Kumail while everyone else shuns him. Adeel Akhtar who plays Kumail’s brother Naveed has little screen time but when you see him he is nothing short of fantastic – over the years Akhtar has been stealing movies in everything he has appeared in, this is the case with “The Big Sick”, he is priceless as Kumail’s traditional Muslim brother – who really only wants what’s best for the entire family, even if its at Kumail’s expense.

“The Big Sick” deals with many issues that face not only Muslim Americans, the interaction of mixed cultured relationships, the politics of the present in the US as well as what it means to be a man, and a child of immigrants – surely the most American of stories. What is great about this film is that it doesn’t answer any of those questions, instead it asks those questions of everyone within the film. What this film may be trying to say is that there are no easy answers to these and more of societies problems, but there does need to be understanding in the way we as a society look at each other no matter religion or politics. There is also something to be said for the way we look at what is the truth, as well as how as people we react when the truth comes out. This is no more apparent in “The Big Sick” than when Kumail’s family history comes out, he reacts in a way that is familiar to all – he gets mad, in so doing destroys the relation ship that means something to him – this will be familiar to all I am sure.

This is a very good film, one that contains many different messages as well as a very healthy amount of humor, which will appeal to most people. Not only that the situations that occur between Kumail, Emily as well as their respective families will be familiar to all, because if you have not been in their situation you are probably aware of people who have. In short this has some universal truths about not families as well as how we treat them but how we view each other. I can recommend this to all and you will have a great time sitting in an audience watching this film – it is also a great antidote to the bloated US Summer movies that are hitting our shores as I write this. Go and search this out you will not be disappointed.

“The Big Sick” is out this week only in cinemas.

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