The pitch for The Big Sick might sound like a tacky weepie you'd have been afraid to watch on TV in the 1990s. But it's hard to do justice to the balancing act that the creators of this singular comedy have achieved. Based on events in the life of star Kumail Nanjiani (who co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Emily V. Gordon), it starts as a lighthearted, freewheeling opposites-attract rom-com and then heads into surprisingly grim territory -- without ever betraying its wild sense of humor.
Nanjiani plays himself, a struggling comic and Uber driver; the exceptional Zoe Kazan plays Emily, a psychiatry student. After they become an item, Kumail can't bring himself to tell his parents about the new love in his life, which in turn leads to a nasty breakup. Then, suddenly, she's in the emergency room, and Kumail is the only one around to be by her side.
Her condition worsens, and a doctor asks him to sign a form allowing her to be put into a medically induced coma. Soon, Emily's parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both fantastic) come to town. Trouble is, unlike Kumail, Emily shares everything with her parents, and her mom and dad have heard all about what a dick this young man has been to their daughter. The excruciating period of waiting that ensues forces Kumail and the parents together, even as Emily lies perilously close to death, and needs more and more medical interventions.
And yet, even after it becomes a story about a person in a coma, the film is hilarious -- I daresay it gets even funnier.