Directed by Michael Showalter. Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff. Running Time: 117 minutes.
While films which opt to remain safely inside the boundaries of a single genre may not attract plaudits for boldness or innovation, they may at least entertain those filmgoers who wish for nothing more than a couple of hours’ worth of diversion that does what it says on the tin, as it were. To put it another way, while genre-busting can be an admirable endeavour, it can also produce some unwatchable drivel (see my previous review of Colossal for further discussion). The Big Sick manages to travel the border between comedy and drama quite deftly, in a way that makes obvious the creative influence of Judd Apatow, who is credited as the film’s producer.
The film opens with Kumail Nanjiani (playing a version of himself) sarcastically outlining to the audience at a stand-up comedy show the ways in which his native Pakistan is not, in fact, especially different from the United States. This foreshadows his central struggle; his uber-conservative Muslim family, intent on arranging his marriage, must be kept in the dark about his burgeoning romance with Emily (Kazan), whose cynical preference for independence is gradually broken down by her growing affection for Kumail.
After a somewhat rocky courtship, the film lurches suddenly from the comfortable realm of the affable romcom as Emily falls victim to a serious lung infection and must be put into a coma. Enter her parents (Hunter and Romano), who get to know Nanjiani in the uncomfortable surroundings of hospital waiting rooms. The three form an unlikely relationship, upon which a large chunk of the film’s narrative is focused.
Comic and dramatic elements are well-balanced, and are never allowed to outweigh or undermine one another. The humour is first rate on one or two occasions (Kumail’s nervous breakdown at a fast food drive-thru is nothing short of comedy gold), but we are not provided with as consistent a stream of hilarity as other Apatow projects. The central romance is somewhat predictable, but both leads perform excellently; Kazan oozes charm and intelligence, and Nanjiani does an eye-catching job of embodying the fusion between a fiercely traditional Pakistani world and the rapidly liberalizing values of modern America. The difficulties that this dichotomy presents for him are hugely thought-provoking, as are his dealings with the contemporary perception of Islam and Muslims in the West.
The roles played by parental figures are another of this movie’s great strengths. Ray Romano’s contributions are unerringly charming, while Holly Hunter (although excessively Southern at times) does well in the role of concerned mother. Kumail’s mother’s (Shroff) poorly masked determination to find him a suitable bride is also a source of entertainment.
Ultimately, while The Big Sick is neither the funniest nor the most gripping of this year’s films, it scores well in terms of the originality of its premise and the cleverness with which it is delivered.
(Image credit: Metacritic, Little White Lies, Spirituality & Practice)