Title: The Big Sick
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Solider: This is an insult to our Muslim hosts!
Brief Plot Synopsis: Standup comedian dates supine woman.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Four Robin Cook novels out of five.
Tagline: "An awkward true story."
Better Tagline: "Do you really think/ She'll pull through?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Aspiring comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is at a crossroads. Wait, don't leave? His showbiz ambitions are at odds with the desires of his traditional Pakistani family, who want him to both go to law school and settle down with a nice Pakistani girl. Matters are therefore complicated when he begins dating the decidedly Caucasian Emily (Zoe Kazan), though their relationship is soon to be tested by something more grave than disapproving parents.
"Critical" Analysis: The Big Sick is that rarest of romantic comedies, in that it's both funny (often hilariously so) and poignant while still allowing its characters to grow and develop despite the constraints of the genre. This is in part because it’s based on the actual beginning of Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the script. Funny how real life occasionally turns out more amusing than whatever AI program produces most of these movies.
But none of that would matter if their experience weren't somehow unique, and calling The Big Sick a "romantic comedy," while technically correct, undermines a great deal of what makes the movie so effective. When one of your leads spends half the film in a coma, the other one better be up for the task, and Nanjiani mostly is. He's a better comedian than an actor, but not by much, and "Kumail" does a good job navigating not only his shortcomings as a performer and partner, but also his dawning realization that he's going to ultimately disappoint his strict Muslim parents.
Director Michael Showalter gets the most out of the rest of the performers as well. Hunter is good enough to make you wonder why her biggest recent role was getting blown up in front of Superman (oh, right, she’s a female over the age of 30), while Romano – who’ll probably be remembered most for starring in a sitcom no one now admits to watching – shows he’s an actor capable of genuine warmth and pathos. Weird.
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And really, the whole cast is solid. Newcomer Bo Burnham and SNL regular Aidy Bryant are great as Kumail's comedian friends, set somewhat against his family, played by Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff and Adeel Akhtar.
It’s to Nanjiani’s credit that he doesn’t really airbrush his early, unfunny attempts at a one-man show, his early screw-ups in his relationship Emily, or his awkwardness dealing with the endless parade of women his mother brings by the house in repeated attempts to kick off an arranged marriage. He still gets most of the best lines, however.
He also may have done more to introduce mainstream audiences to the American Muslim experience than anyone before. Characters from the Middle East or South Asia have largely been relegated to the role of bad guy or sidekick, even more so in recent years. How refreshing to see a well-adjusted Muslim family — or at least one that's no more dysfunctional than any other — depicted in an American city without anybody making a big deal out of it.
It's almost as if...living alongside people from other countries and cultures helps normalize relationships between them and us. Go figure.