STARS: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Drama
There is plenty of irony, even in the title: The Big Sick. A young woman lies in a coma, fighting for her life. But there is another kind of sickness that permeates all of society--in every culture--and it's called prejudice. Here, though, we have a different twist. Instead of white folks being the bigots, it's a Pakistani family living in the USA that absolutely will not accept the idea of their son falling for an American girl--and a blonde, at that! Arranged marriages are their thing, and mom recruits a cadre of comely Pakistani ladies who just happen to "drop by" during dinnertime to meet her sitting duck son, Kumail.
But Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a stand up comedian, is smitten by Emily--an affable, quirky kind of girl--qualities brought out in spades by the delightful Zoe Kazan. Emily is so American that she believes couples should fall in love first, and proceed from there. This sets up a classic clash of cultures, as Kumail is chicken to reveal Emily's presence to his family for fear of the consequences. He's caught in the middle, and now, as Emily lies in a medically induced coma in the hospital fighting a life threatening infection, Kumail has her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) to contend with as well. What's a funny man to do...laugh it off? Hardly.
It's a bit peculiar to See Ray Romano playing it straight as the concerned dad, though it's not that much of a departure from his normal deadpan style. Just the punchlines are missing. Who knows, maybe he'll morph into the next Steve Carell! And director Judd Apatow surely knew that Holly Hunter was a show stealer when he brought her aboard. Here he looks the other way as she commits grand larceny in a supporting role with a powerful and nuanced performance.
The only thing that didn't ring true (to me) is that we we watch Kumail blow off all of these beautiful Pakistani women (and I cringed) in favor of his American crush. Hey, I would have found a way to fit some of them in...
But that's me.
I almost didn't see The Big Sick (based on a true story) due to its highly misleading trailer. They took what comedic punchlines there were and stuck them all into the trailer, making the film appear to be lighthearted romantic fluff. It's MUCH more than that. Serio-comic would be the appropriate term. Thought-provoking would be another. Damn good would be another.
How I love to be right! And this time, at my insistence, Tim finally broke down and went to see The Big Sick. I'd seen it in California and knew he'd like it. A lot. Having spent many years in Vancouver, BC, where the Pakistani culture flourishes, I had witnessed a mother who actually pretended to be her own daughter, signing her up on a Pakistani dating site and corresponding with potential husband material. (I kid you not!)The Big Sick uses this arranged marriage business in wonderfully humorous ways. But in real life honor killings are no joke.
The story is based on the real life of stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, whose role as Dinesh on the HBO series "Silicon Valley" made his face a familiar one to TV viewers. His comic timing is impeccable and some of the lines he utters in The Big Sick (I won't ruin it for you by repeating them here) are guffaw-makers. If you want a taste of his understated brilliance check out this YouTube video:
Or this one:https://www.youtube.com/watch?
The only criticism I could come up with was too much medical stuff, too many specialists. My west coast movie buddy Hank was quick to point out that some of those actors-turned-doctors were, in reality, fellow comics. (Good for Kumail for casting them in cameos...) I also want to mention that this same movie buddy agreed with Tim. He felt the pack of potential Pakistani wives, especially the last one, were far more appealing than his coma-induced American cutie. The Big Sick is layered, thought-provoking and a cinematic gem. No wonder it's been held over in movie theaters here for six weeks straight.