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The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick (2017) movie poster The Big Sick

Theatrical Release: June 23, 2017 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Showalter / Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani), Zoe Kazan (Emily Gordon), Holly Hunter (Beth Gordon), Ray Romano (Terry Gordon), Anupam Kher (Azmat), Zenobia Shroff (Sharmeen), Adeel Akhtar (Naveed), Bo Burnham (CJ), Aidy Bryant (Mary), Kurt Braunohler (Chris), Vella Lovell (Khadija), Myra Lucretia Taylor (Nurse Judy), Jeremy Shamos (Bob Dalavan), David Alan Grier (Andy Dodd)

 

Everyone remembers the comedy films that made movie stars out of Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin),
Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), and Amy Schumer (Trainwreck). What do they all have in common? Judd Apatow as producer. Apatow's latest producing credit comes on The Big Sick, an appealing, human comedy that definitely ought to make a movie star out of its co-writer and leading man, Kumail Nanjiani.

You might not recognize his name, but you could recognize his face. Nanjiani has put in work over the past ten years, turning up in shows like "Portlandia" and "Franklin & Bash" and movies like Central Intelligence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. The 39-year-old's biggest claim to fame may be his duties as a regular on HBO's "Silicon Valley", but that should change once The Big Sick finds moviegoers who appreciate it as much as critics have.

In "The Big Sick", stand-up comic/Uber driver Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani) begins dating Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan).

The Big Sick is an autobiographical film in which Nanjiani plays a slightly younger version of himself. Born in Pakistan, Nanjiani now lives in Chicago and works as a stand-up comic. That's not a career that's understood by his close-knit, traditional family who live nearby. Nor do they understand his reluctance to agree to an arranged marriage as is the custom in his culture.

Kumail begins dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), a therapist in training who he accuses of mildly heckling him during his show. Though each claims to not being open to dating at this time, they make a cute couple and decide to keep seeing each other. Then, upon learning that Kumail has not told his family about her and has a cigar box full of Pakistani-American women's photos and bios, they break up. Shortly thereafter, Emily comes down with a serious infection and Kumail has to be the one to give consent to put her in a medically induced coma as doctors try to combat the serious illness.

Emily's parents -- Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) -- come to Chicago and become fixtures at the hospital. They're not keen on Kumail being present at first, his connection to their daughter having been frayed. But in time, they warm to each other as they hope for the best possible outcome at what is only ranked the 17th best hospital in the city.

After his recent ex-girlfriend falls ill, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) finds himself spending lots of time at the hospital with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).

Written by Nanjiani and (spoiler?) the real Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a very funny film. It consistently amuses with incidents that are clearly drawn from real life: Emily trying to sneak out in the middle of the night to not have to use the bathroom at Kumail's place, Kumail being her Uber driver, and various experiences with Kumail's family in which potential wives just conveniently "drop in" during dinner time. Oftentimes, real life makes for the most compelling entertainment and it's always evident that the writers are sharing their actual experiences. It's also evident that both Nanjiani and the love interest being dramatized are smart, witty people.
They're too smart to give us a conventional Hollywood romance in the vein of While You Were Sleeping or to hit beats that they themselves didn't really encounter.

The sincere approach means less invention, but there is still tremendous skill needed to turn their experience into a palatable, relatable, and taut comedy film. The writers display that skill in spades and their comedic gifts are well complimented by Kazan, Hunter, and Romano, the three actors helping to bring their story to life. The film opens as a two-hander, then becomes a three-hander as the leading lady is rendered unconscious and we're left wading through the tangibly awkward atmosphere that comes from Nanjiani spending his time with his ex's parents, all of them racked with concern.

The Big Sick lacks the slick feel and mid-range budgets of the Apatow comedies I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Whereas all of those were wide releases from Universal Pictures, this one is a platform rollout from Amazon Studios and Lionsgate. Is this different approach related to the fact that all of those vehicles made stars out of white comedians, whereas Nanjiani is of foreign origin? Probably and that sucks because Nanjiani's ethnicity is central to the film's story and because Middle Eastern actors are among the numerous groups rarely represented in American films who don't even have people championing for their opportunities in the name of diversity. Quality, not diversity, is the reason to celebrate this movie, but having a spotlight shone on a different culture is certainly a nice perk. Nanjiani's name doesn't roll off the tongue and he doesn't look like other comedy movie stars. But he's as sharp-witted and funny as any leading man we've seen in some time, something you could gather from his often underappreciated supporting roles in middling movies like Fist Fight and Life as We Know It.

The Big Sick will need strong word of mouth to have anywhere near the impact of Apatow's raunchier Universal comedies. But it deserves it. This is a film that's impossible to resist. It doesn't rely on crudeness or stereotypes for laughs, or marginalize anyone's customs or beliefs. Ray Romano, who has been entrenched in the Apatowverse through repeat "Everybody Loves Raymond" references and a Funny People cameo, has never been funnier than here. Holly Hunter gets to sink her teeth into what is her juiciest film role since The Incredibles' Elastigirl and be seen in the process. Kazan reminds us why she seemed on the cusp of a breakout five years ago with Ruby Sparks. She also happens to bear a striking resemblance to the real Emily, which is rare.

Boasting a near-unanimous approval rating from critics, The Big Sick will continue to expand and hopefully find those who treasure it as the year's best and funniest comedy so far.

Related Reviews:
Kumail Nanjiani: Fist Fight Life as We Know It Portlandia: Season 1 The Kings of Summer Hell Baby Central Intelligence Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Zoe Kazan: Ruby Sparks Our Brand Is Crisis happythankyoumoreplease Revolutionary Road In the Valley of Elah
Ray Romano: Rob the Mob | Holly Hunter: Broadcast News The Firm Paradise Bonnie & Clyde Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Produced by Judd Apatow: Knocked Up Funny People Superbad The TV Set Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Now in Theaters: Baby Driver Maudie Spider-Man: Homecoming Wonder Woman
Meet the Patels My Big Fat Greek Wedding

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Reviewed June 30, 2017.



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