The Big Sick
Summer’s Most Genuine Comedy

The summer movie season is typically filled with big-budget action spectacles, animated kids movies, and broad comedies.  But every good summer movie season also usually has at least one breakout independent movie that serves as counter-programming to the blockbusters.  Typically, these movies become big hits in their own right thanks mostly to good word of mouth and The Big Sick has been getting good word of mouth ever since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

The movie stars actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani, best known for his role as Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley, and The Big Sick is based on his own life.  Nanjiani co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Emily V. Gordon and the movie focuses on their courtship and its unusual circumstances.  In the movie, Kumail and Emily meet at a comedy club where she is heckling him (he says) and they form an instant bond.  Emily believes that their relationship is going somewhere, but Kumail, as much as he likes her, knows that his family will never approve of him marrying someone who is not Pakistani.  When she learns that he does not foresee them having a future together, the relationship crumbles.

Kumail Nanjiani in The Big SickA wrench is thrown into their breakup, though, when Emily comes down with a mysterious illness and is forced to be hospitalized.  Kumail then finds himself in the awkward position of having to call Emily’s parents and tell them about her illness.  When they meet at the hospital it is for the first time and her parents already distrust him having known about how the relationship ended.  They thank him for his help, but explain that they can take it from there and ask him to leave.  But Kumail is determined to stay and through this awkward experience and subsequent bonding with Emily’s parents, he will learn that maybe it is okay to pursue the life he wants, even if it isn’t necessarily the life his parents want for him.

Anyone can tell a joke, but the best comedy tends to come from someplace real and that is where The Big Sick succeeds.  The characters in this movie feel genuine and that is directly due to the fact that the relationships and situations we see on screen are real.  Artistic license was taken for dramatic purposes, of course, but that does not change the fact that the emotions the movie generates are authentic.

A lot of the early press for this movie has referred to it as a romantic comedy, but that is really selling the film short.  Sure, the movie is mostly about a romance and there is a lot of comedy in it, but it is difficult to define something as a romantic comedy when one of the romantic partners disappears for an entire act.  This movie is a lot more than just “will they or won’t they” as it deals with cultural differences, racial insensitivity, and the relationships between parents and children as much as it does the romantic relationship at its core.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents.  It is nice to see Hunter in a return to comedy, something she was very successful with early in her career, but hasn’t been given much of a chance to showcase her comedic talents recently.  As for Romano, it is always fun to watch a comedian play a character who is not always the best at landing the punch lines.  He and Nanjiani have a few scenes with some excellent back and forth, making it far from surprising to hear that the two comedians are currently touring with each other.

Zoe Kazan is so delightful in her role as Emily that it is a shame that her character has to be missing from so much of the movie, but it is because she was so endearing in the first act that we root for her to come back in the end and rekindle her relationship with Kumail.  And Kumail Nanjiani is a revelation.  With his success as a stand-up comic and on “Silicon Valley”, it was no surprise to see him succeed in the comic portions of the film, but he also has to carry the majority of the emotional weight of this movie as well and he is every bit as believable in the tough dramatic scenes as he is in the lighter comic ones.

The Big Sick is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that has been steadily gaining steam ever since Sundance.  Hopefully that momentum will continue now that the movie has been released and it doesn’t get lost in the shadow of those blockbuster spectacles.  Of all the movie’s released so far in the summer of 2017, this may just be the most important one to see.

The Big Sick is rated R for “language including some sexual references.”  There was plenty of foul language and certainly some dirty talk, but if you told me this movie was PG-13 and not R, I probably would believe you.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Big Sick.