June 29, 2017

SCREEN | Kumail Nanjiani Cures 'The Big Sick'

"I love it when men test my tastes."
Kumail Nanjiani Zoe Kazan Emily V. Gordon Judd Apatow Michael Showalter | The Big Sick

Married comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon share the real-life story of their rocky, interracial courtship in the welcome summer romantic comedy The Big Sick. Produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, the film is full of hysterical Pakastani-American themed humour about immigrant life and navigating cultural desire and creative ambition.

What's so refreshing is how the obstacles between Kumail and Emily are so real and authentic feeling. Emily is freshly divorced and studying to be a therapist while Kumail (playing himself) is struggling to become a stand-up comedian while trying to please his strict religious Muslim parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) who want him to agree to an arranged marriage and pursue a traditional family life.

Zoe Kazan as Emily is understated but completely compelling going back and forth between charm and emotional trauma deftly. Narratively, it's more than a little challenging when half your romantic pairing falls into a coma and is removed from the story throughout the entire middle portion of the film. The limited time she has before and after her medical situation happens is a testament to the emotional resonance and connection she achieves as we miss her presence alongside Kumail.

Kumail Nanjiani Zoe Kazan Emily V. Gordon Judd Apatow Michael Showalter | The Big Sick

Once Emily's parents enter the picture, the drama and emotion leading to dark comedy really ratchet up. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's mismatched, worried parents are sensational. Their arc antagonistically getting to know Kumail is touching and hilarious. It's heartening seeing a film focus so much on the relationship between someone and their (eventual) in-laws and offer a diverse look at the adult/parental dynamic from different angles.

This is a complex film that isn't afraid of switching back and forth between the hardship drama of a loved one's medical situation and fooling around with your comic buddies, played by Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunohle. It's those deft shifts of tone that show Showalter's talent for managing characters, drama, and balancing jokes with feelings so well.

The Big Sick is an ambitious and heartfelt romantic comedy about so many wonderful things that are often difficult to talk about. The way it weaves the pursuit of stand-up comedy with experiences of being a foreigner, a tense sense of family, finding love, and dealing through hardship is breathless and so entertaining. It's a deeply personal, affecting story about real problems, genuine relationships, and the struggle of families. It's easily one of the year's most emotionally satisfying films.

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