The Big Sick
Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar
There are a few films each year that seem to hit at the right moment, with all the right themes. Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick, already won investors at Sundance (landing a $12 million dollar deal with Amazon), audiences at SXSW, and now with enthusiastic support from the critics (Anne Thompson calling it a best picture contender) looks to be one of the years most celebrated movies. The film itself, written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, is based partially on their true story. It’s also a rare mainstream flick that explores the Pakistani-American experience in both a funny and emotional light. It basically has all the working ingredients of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, only with better performances, a more universally identifiable story and more life affirming subject matter.
Kumail (Nanjiani) is a low level stand-up comedian in Chicago, who fakes his five-minute prayer in the basement during family time, playing video games on his phone. He refuses to give into his mother’s desperate attempts to find him a wife, which include an endless parade of single museum women who, “just happened to drop in” at dinner time every night. “Why would you raise a child in America and not allow him to have an American life,” he asks. Kumail meets Emily (Kazan) at his comedy club and they hit things off instantly, as in, that night she goes home with him. When things get serious, she reveals a secret in her past and discovers he’s been hiding their relationship from his strict family. “Can you imagine a world where we end up together”, she asks. Sickness has a way of changing your world view, and that’s what happens to Kumail, as he is compelled under extreme circumstances to spend time with Emily’s mother and father.
Comedy remains throughout even the darkest moments and often in places you don’t expect. That’s its charm, surprising the viewer.
For a film that opens with stand-up comedy routines, The Big Sick turns dramatic very quickly. The comedy remains throughout even the darkest moments and often in places you don’t expect. That’s its charm, surprising the viewer. One of the most welcome surprises is the comeback performance from Holly Hunter, not that she really went anywhere, but she hasn’t been this electric and unforgettable in some time. It took an entire act for me to warm up to the film, it starts out like a typical R-rated comedy, but a scene where Kumail takes Hunter and Ray Ramano, who plays the father, to the comedy club changes everything. The Big Sick becomes a film to root for.
It’s the relatability that should suck audiences into this story and like Moonlight last year, you don’t have to be one gender, creed, religion or other, to swap places with these characters. Director Michael Showalter and Nanjiani also worked together on Hello My Name is Doris, another film that’s charm was found in the relatability and emotional comedy. As far as awards go, much will depend on Amazon’s ability to push this little indie into the fold with marketing and screeners. The original screenplay is a sure bet, Hunter for supporting actress also a good possibility, but Nanjiani landing a coveted best actor spot will be more difficult. He has a handful of “Oscar scene” clips, none more memorable than the one played for laughs over “four slices of cheese” at the drive thru. The seriousness of the subject matter should help balance the comedy in voter’s minds.
The relatability of the story is the selling point here, alongside Hunter’s knockout performance.