Big Laughs As ‘The Big Sick’ Tests Love And Family (Movie Review)

Every comedian has a story, which is likely why they are comedians, to begin with. Detailing the ways life has set one on a particular path makes a lot of sense when it comes to shaping an act designed to entertain people. Comedy can certainly go with life’s tragedies, as an old saying even involves an equation explaining as much. The Big Sick is an excellent encapsulation of this, as it tells the story of the real relationship between comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer Emily V. Gordon. There are heartbreaks, sadness, and life-threatening illness, so of course, the two decided to write a screenplay that works as a comedy-drama fit for Judd Apatow to produce. The results are wonderful, as the film finds a balance of how the awkwardness of life can lead to big laughs as well as many poignant moments.

Nanjiani stars as Kumail, assuring the audience that this story is very much his own. Working as an Uber driver who moonlights as a stand-up (or is it the other way around?), Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) after a set, and the two hit it off. She’s studying to be a therapist, and despite claiming not to be in a place to start a relationship, Emily can’t help but enjoy the genuinely charming Kumail. There is one issue, however, which falls in line with any romantic comedy that uses familial obligations as a plot point. You see, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family (his parents played very well by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) want him to get arranged married, meaning they constantly try to set him up with Pakistani women who “drop in” during family dinners.

It will not be surprising to learn Kumail has to navigate being in a relationship with Emily and contending with his Parents, with both parties being none-the-wiser. One may even wonder why I’m highlighting this familiar plot element over the larger conflict that puts Emily out of commission for much of the film. Well, that’s part of why The Big Sick works. In addition to being a movie about how Kumail and Emily’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both superb here) deal with Emily’s mysterious illness that leads to her being put into a coma, the movie also works as a strong immigrant story

This is where it should be noted how strong Nanjiani is in his first leading man performance. Granted it’s his story, and the material should work in his favor, Nanjiani has so far occupied the space of funny supporting characters in other films that could have easily gone unmemorable, were he not so effectively hilarious. In a world where he is not the traditional Hollywood type as far as romantic leads, The Big Sick makes a good argument as to why it’s rewarding to see him in this position. In addition to having a relaxed chemistry with the entire cast and fulfilling the requirements of dramatic scenes, it’s the personal history and culture that further informs the character and provides something fresh for the genre.

Apatow and director Michael Showalter recognize why Kumail and Emily’s story is unique, as they went all in on helping to put it on the screen. It’s this aspect that allows the film to fall in line with something like Knocked Up, in that The Big Sick has a two-hour runtime thanks to a willingness to realize that not everything is in support of the comedy. Laughs settle at various points to allow time for arguments, dramatic reveals involving both families, and tension involving the state of Emily’s character.

To go further into that other significant development, much of the film’s middle section deals with what happens while Emily is placed into a medically-induced coma. Kumail, despite having broken up with Emily at this point, forms a relationship with her parents. It’s a credit to the screenplay and the performers that removing a major character from the story and turning the film in another direction doesn’t upset the balance. Instead, The Big Sick can probe other themes concerning what it takes to make relationships work and what roles families can ultimately play with one another. It also helps that the film continues to be very funny.

The main cast is stellar, but Kumail’s presence in the stand-up world also gives way to appearances from Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler and David Alan Grier. They co-star as various characters that provide the film with some breezy scenes that play like many of the other fun moments in movies that just allow some breathing room via improv scenes of comedians trying to make each other laugh. Only helping matters is how the film doesn’t feel overlong in its efforts to cater to these scenes. While The Big Sick is long, it does a good job of not meandering too far from the story being told.

Thanks to a sharp script that provides a voice for Kumail, Emily, and both families and accompanying performances that bring these characters to life, The Big Sick works. Helping it further is the amount of genuine joy there is to take away from this story. The movie is hilarious when it wants to be, but doesn’t shy away from the drama either. It presents life in a manner that’s believable. It just so happens that this depiction of life comes from a story told with a smile by a comedian.

  1. No Comments