The Big Sick (2017)
The Big Sick (2017)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs.

Release Date: July 14th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Michael Showalter Actors: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler

 


 

K

umail Nanjiani (playing Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani stand-up comedian in Chicago, dreaming of becoming a major star or writing for a popular television series (such as Saturday Night Live). And he just might get his big break when a scout from the Montreal Comedy Festival attends his show to select some lucky finalists. It’s a surprisingly good opportunity, considering that Kumail has been receiving five-minute sets in exchange for putting out chairs at the venue.

At his latest gig, he’s playfully heckled by Emily Gardner (Zoe Kazan), a college student studying psychology. But there’s little time for talk about careers; they immediately hit it off, joking about his infatuation with Hugh Grant during his teen years, and her obsession with goth makeup and styling during her own clumsy adolescence. But as they steadily grow fonder of one another, it’s Kumail’s religion and his parent’s expectations that stymie potential happiness; he’s supposed to marry a Pakistani Muslim woman in a union orchestrated by his mother (Zenobia Shroff), based on longstanding traditions – not love. This, somewhat oddly, is a concept completely unfamiliar to Emily, who rejects the notion as a hurdle to potentially overcome, choosing rather to view it as an insurmountable deal-breaker. As Kumail jests, in Pakistan, it’s not an arranged marriage – it’s just marriage. And marrying a white girl is far worse than a hit-and-run accident or check forging. “Can we have an awkward hug before we part forever?”

Right from the start, it’s apparent that the brand of humor in “The Big Sick” doesn’t follow the typical, overly prominent, raunchy string of gags that frequents most contemporary comedies. Instead, it’s almost as if the film wasn’t designed to be a comedy; laughs are conjured naturally from everyday situations and uncomfortable interactions (beginning primarily with Kumail’s family, which resembles the quirky assemblage from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” or “Moonstruck”). Everything in the film is believable and relatable; there are no hyperbolic scenarios, even when attention-grabbing outbursts occur, which would expectedly receive a boost of flamboyance or exaggeration. Here, the sarcasm and the reactions are subtle and subdued, as if the players are all behaving as they would in real life. One of the picture’s best qualities is that the majority of the conversations feel improvised and spontaneous. Overwrought rehearsals seem nonexistent.

“Take it seriously,” insists Kumail’s mother as she parades one after another suitor in front of him at the dinner table, hoping that he’ll settle for a sensible Pakistani girl. In one of the most eye-opening, honest moments, he questions why his family insists upon upholding their customs when they specifically brought him to America to experience the American Dream. As the film explores identity, prospects, and filling roles, it also examines some very serious circumstances relating to sickness, mortality, grief, guilt, desperation, parenting, and boundaries – heavy stuff for a light comedy.

While it possesses a wryness that can occasionally muster laugh-out-loud funny moments, it also contains tragedies and drama that tug at the heartstrings. It’s frequently more bittersweet than it is merely sweet, which works for its storytelling (utilizing comedians Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as anxiety-ridden parents who remain earnest in their concerns, rather than resorting to easy comedic routines, is a definite high point) but detracts from its gaiety. In many spots, “The Big Sick” is more desolating than knee-slapping. With its autobiographical notes and its refreshing genuineness, however, it’s a greater success than its recent peers, even if it carries on a bit too long and even when Kumail’s stand-up snippets are the least humorous components in a construct of drollery mined poignantly from complicated relationships. Plus, most fascinating of all, the love story takes place almost entirely without Emily’s character being present, aided in her absence by her compassionate parents and Kumail’s bonding through uncommon dedication.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10