Film Review: The Big Sick

It takes a lot to make a truly honest romantic comedy these days that can retain some of the raunchy elements of a Judd Apatow movie while mixing in the sweet sentimentality of a realistic romance while remaining true to the characters and the premise that is set up in the film. While I would never say that this film is ‘raunchy,’ it is a decidedly ‘adult’ comedy and a lot of it plays out like a typical Apatow comedy (which is not a knock on Apatow at all; he’s directed and produced terrific work) but with a huge heart as well. This is a film that looks, sounds and feels 100% genuine to its core.

The film sees Kumail Nanjiani play himself at an earlier stage of his life when he is struggling with stand-up comedy, his family’s expectations out of him in getting him an arranged marriage as well as a real job and just the overall banality of his life. However, the day he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a lot changes for him. As they realize their deep attraction for each other and multiple connections that they make, they eventually experience a nasty breakup and then – tragedy strikes and Emily is placed into a medically-induced coma. This forces Kumail to bring her parents (Ray Romano & Holly Hunter) into the fray and the three of them help each other deal with this situation and also the awkward position that everyone is forced into assuming despite having no previous interactions with each other.

The most incredible thing about this movie is how deeply personal it is to its star/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon and how the blood, sweat and tears that were put into getting this movie off the ground is ultimately paying off for them critically and financially. You may not have even heard of Kumail Nanjiani before but rest assured, if you have seen Goosebumps, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Fist Fight or even episodes of Portlandia you would definitely never forget his dry wit and sharp delivery even in the smallest of roles. With this film that he co-wrote with his wife Emily, the whole thing speaks as a beautiful love letter between the two and bringing their tumultuous history to the big screen as a comedy (with a fair share of drama) pays off in dividends in terms of realistic performances from everyone involved.

Nanjiani may play himself but it can also be seen as a very difficult thing to do as you must somewhat step outside yourself and expose all of your flaws at the same time. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in. He plays the part with his signature quick wit but also a great deal of honesty and warmth that he’s never gotten the chance to display up until this point. Zoe Kazan is also very cute and funny and despite her not having as much screen time as Kumail, she lights up the film whenever she does appear in scenes. Zoe is the perfect match for him; she’s also quick-witted and occasionally crass but really sweet at the same time. Some real show-stealing performances from Holly Hunter and especially Ray Romano as the parents highlight this thing as well with Hunter not falling under a stereotypical ‘angry, grieving mother’ moniker and Romano bringing some incredible acting chops and a wonderful nuanced performance. I would love to see Romano nominated for Best Supporting Actor come awards season.

Director Michael Showalter has worked with a large number of people in different settings with the most extreme difference being the rambunctious comedy ensemble Wet, Hot American Summer. With this film, he never lets his style get in the way of the film’s message and power all on its own. He brings out true, honest performances from the entire cast. The biggest example is the group of comedian friends that Kumail has played by Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham and Kurt Braunohler; I never once for a second doubted the connection they shared. They all just seemed like a bunch of friends hanging out. Having oodles of experience with comedy himself, Showalter is able to explore nuances in that area as well, especially in a scene where one comedian is doing some “schtick” that annoys the others but when he leaves the stage, everyone is very positive (“Good set! New material is great!”) and realize that none of them are brave enough to be confrontational. Having spent a little time in that world on the local scene, I can confirm that is indeed an accurate representation.

The strengths in the film also concern the subject of Kumail’s cultural background as well. All the scenes with Kumail and his family along with the pressures they put on him will play so close to home for a lot of people. These scenes could easily be played out for broad laughs as we’ve all seen in so many of these cross-cultural comedies but they are not – these scenes are played out as genuine and real. Sure, they contain some of the movie’s funniest lines and moments but they also are just dripping with gripping family drama that never feels fabricated in the slightest. One of the later scenes involving a bit between Kumail and his father is equal parts wonderful and heartbreaking.

What else can I say about this beautiful film? Go see it and experience the whole thing; it’s another top movie of the year and absolutely flawless from start-to-finish.

RATING: *****


Rating System:

Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)

* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)

** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)

*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)

**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)

***** (Flawless; a true achievement)