The Big Sick (SXSW Review)

The Big Sick is an uproariously funny comedy that had to tread a very difficult line since a major portion of the film takes place in a hospital and has one of the major characters in a coma. A film written by and starring Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), directed by Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer), and produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck) should, on those names alone, have enough buy-in to get lovers of comedy into the theater. Once in the theater, though, this movie will surprise audiences with its tenderness and heart and then leave them straining to hear lines as laughter fills the auditorium. A tone-perfect, Apatow-style rom-COM, The Big Sick will be the summer date movie that has everyone falling out of their seats.

The film tells a fictionalized version of the true story of the romance between Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and his now-wife and co-writer on the film, Emily Gordon, played in the film by Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). It takes place while Kumail was still finding minor success as a stand-up comic in Chicago and Emily was going to school for Psychology. They meet at a stand-up show and their one-night stand quickly turns into a relationship despite their protests that they don’t have time to date. When Kumail’s strong persuasive motivation to conform to his parents’ Pakistani traditions get in the way of the development of the relationship, the two are driven apart. And then, just days later, Emily falls sick and has to be put into a medically induced coma. With Kumail as the only recent person to know Emily very well, he is forced into a position of sitting by the bedside of his ex-girlfriend and waiting for her parents to show up. When Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Holly Hunter (The Incredibles), do come, Kumail is put into a situation of confronting his culture, trying to perform his comedy, navigating the best way to help Emily’s parents, and caring for a person in a coma who he knows doesn’t really even want to see him.

If that doesn’t really sound funny, that’s because you don’t trust Showalter and Nanjiani. This movie, even with its person-in-a-coma premise, is completely hilarious. Kumail is the main driving force behind most of the humor as he is presented as a constant jokester, never really wanting to take things too seriously. But, once Holly Hunter enters the film, her whirling fireball of a no-nonsense Southern woman totally steals nearly every scene she is in. All the characters are given something funny to work with, down to Kumail’s fellow comedians, played by Bo Burnham, Kurt Braunohler, and SNL’s Aidy Bryant and it all works very well to help offset the somewhat depressing reality of Emily’s condition. Perhaps unique to this film is Kumail’s well-honed jokes about Pakistan and Pakistani culture, which while they more inform than envelope this film (contrasted with something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding), are distinctly present to drive the smaller culture-clash elements of the comedy.

There aren’t really any major issues with The Big Sick. It delivers on funny moments, it is serious when it needs to be, and it tugs on one’s tear ducts a bit at a few moments. Whenever it begins to feel too samey compared to other comedies of its ilk, something happens to remind the audience of Kumail’s unique charm or a new development happens in Emily’s condition that will keep one right here enjoying the story of this film without worrying about other films that came before it. The Big Sick is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that should play very well when it comes out later this year. I would recommend watching it, but once the marketing does its work, every couple and lover of comedy will already be set on watching it anyway.

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