My biggest issue with The Big Sick? Its release date. The Big Sick is a bona fide feel-great legit Oscar contender. And the biggest challenge will be if short attention span voters will remember it nearly six months later in the thick of award season. But the film offers a ton of reasons why they should and why it’s worth checking out one of 2017’s most heartfelt and enjoyable efforts.
Kumail Nanjiani (Central Intelligence) stars and co-writes this semi-autobiographical look at the unorthodox manner in which he fell in love with his wife. Nanjiani’s co-writer is appropriately his wife, Emily V. Gordon.
Along with his pals Mary (Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live), Chris (Kurt Braunohler) and CJ (Bo Burnham, Rough Night), Kumail is a stand-up comedian on the cusp of a big break. They’re starting to get the attention of a comic scout who could make their wildest dreams a reality. Until then, Kumail has to make ends meet as an Uber driver.
One night during his standup, he’s instantly drawn to Emily (Zoe Kazan, The Monster), an aspiring therapist with a charmingly quirky personality. Nanjiani has a great deadpan delivery that plays well for an average guy with a quick wit and his chemistry with Kazan feels genuine and believable. Gradually their casual dating starts getting serious, which creates problems for Kumail as his mother (Zenobia Shroff) is deep in the process of finding him a bride. And the fact that Kumail is dating a non-Pakistani woman is not going to fly, potentially getting him disowned from the family.
On the surface, there are a number of similarities to another film I loved, Meet the Patels. That film was a documentary romance comedy providing valuable insight on the arranged marriage selection process and its impact on modern Indian-Americans.
While I’d recommend it anyway as it’s a terrific movie, Patels actually makes for a good primer to The Big Sick. Nanjiani doesn’t go as in depth to the interview selection portion and Patels gives helpful background on what seems like a challenging and grueling ordeal.
The strain of his family demands wears on Kumail and seemingly derails his relationship, which gets further complicated when Emily is placed in an induced coma from a mysterious infection. Having been clued in to the blowup, Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Terry (Ray Romano), are initially apprehensive about Kumail’s presence in the hospital.
Gradually, Kumail endears himself to them and the unlikely trio navigates through a highly stressful emotional ordeal. As entertaining as the Kumail/Emily romance is, The Big Sick gets even better from these messy, awkward and endearing scenes with Kumail, Beth and Terry.
I’ll start campaigning for Hunter and Romano for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor nominations now. Hunter is superb as the frazzled, protective mother playing off nicely with Romano’s laid-back, reserved performance.
Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) paces the film very well allowing for tremendous character development. Even better, Showalter sets the film up to along for more depth than the traditional romance dramas so the supporting characters have layers instead of just being caricatures. Vella Lovell has a captivating cameo as potential match Khadija, which shows the other side of the pairing process.
There are some nice surprises as we get to know the characters and what makes them tick or ticks them off. Showalter manages the tricky feat of making the characters feel so lived in that I wanted to spend more time with them. The stand up crew easily could have been the basis for an entire movie and Kumail’s family life and ‘rivalry’ with brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar, Pan) was equally entertaining.
Nanjiani and Gordon thoughtfully tackle race throughout the film from various perspectives. I liked that The Big Sick doesn’t shy away from the fact that America’s greatest disease is intolerance and an idiotic hatred based on skin color. Their approach isn’t preachy or drawn out scenes in the film, but examines racism from a fresh perspective. If one person comes away from the film thinking differently about even deep down prejudices, those scenes were absolutely essential.
The Big Sick plays out more like real life — warts, messy relationships, humor and how we relate to one another. It’s also a really excellent film and one that I’ll happily be revisiting for award season and year-end honors.