The Big Sick – Review

Worth seeing: as a fresh take on the romantic comedy that tackles cultural and generational clashes with warmth and maturity.
Director:Michael Showalter
Featuring:Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Shamos, Kurt Braunohler, Ray Romano, Shenaz Treasury, Spencer House, Vella Lovell, Zenobia Shroff
Length:120 minutes
Certificate:15
Country:US
Released:28th July 2017

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) moved from Pakistan to Chicago as a child with his family. As close as he is to his traditional parents, as a young adult, he’s still keeping a couple of secrets from them.

They think he’s studying to be a lawyer – he’s actually trying to make a living as a stand-up comic.

They regularly set him up with nice muslim girls from Pakistan – but he’s dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), a white local student that he met at a comedy club.

Not familiar with the cultural pressure he finds himself under, when Emily finds out that she’s a secret, she calls off the relationship.

But soon, while she’s out with a friend, Emily falls ill and is rushed to hospital. The friend is too busy to wait with her so she calls Kumail, who in turn, informs her parents, who need to fly in from Texas.

They arrive to find Emily in an induced coma, with Kumail at her side. Her mother (Holly Hunter) can’t work out why someone who wouldn’t even tell his family about her is now sitting with her, but her father (Ray Romano) warms to him quickly.

Over the weeks that follow, Kumail works on his relationship with Emily’s parents as he finds himself falling properly in love with her. But despite his emotional journey, when she eventually wakes up, she’s still back where she was weeks earlier.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

The plot might seem quite involved – but this is essentially two separate films, one about a blossoming relationship, threatened only by the pressures of a culture clash – the other about a guy’s relationship with a girl being guided by his relationship with her parents, while she’s not even in the picture.

Each half would make a fresh new take on the romantic comedy and combining them is an effective way of exploring mature themes that rarely make it onto the big screen.

While some might be left cold by the premise, there is much to resonate with anyone who has faced cultural or generational opposition to the lives they have chosen for themselves.

Kumail Nanjiani, who’s based the screenplay on his own experiences, neatly navigates some complicated emotional territory, using the kind of humour – sometimes gentle, sometimes stoic – to highlight issues that will be face by many, from different sides of the fence..

Nanjiani himself is at the heart of every scene as he weighs up the importance of forging his own destiny, while trying to keep his family together. Why did they come to the US if they wanted to continue to live as they did in Pakistan, he wonders. But wonder all he might, that’s the status quo and he can like it or lump it.

His relationship with Emily’s parents is even more complex than that with his own – as Holly Hunter finds it considerably more difficult than Ray Romano to accept the support of a man who, on his past record, doesn’t think her daughter is good enough for his family. They – and Nanjiani’s own parents – are among the most entertaining and believable supporting characters you’ll have seen in such a film. Most people will recognise their own parents in there somewhere.

And in the background, all the while, is Namjiani’s dream of making it as a stand-up comic. This is perhaps the weakest strand of the film. It’s entertaining, as we navigate the world of talent-spotters haunting small-time comedy clubs, peopled by everyone from stars of the future to hopeless certain failures. But one of the biggest problems is that this is ostensibly a comedy about a comedian – but while he’s charming and funny in a natural everyday sort of way, on stage, he paints himself as having potential but he’s never really particularly funny.

The Big Sick has a lot to say about modern-society, where young adults are trying to furrow their own path alongside that of their parents’ generation. Despite suggestions that this film is trying to say something about the politics of Islamophobia in the Trump-era, it’s far more personal than political and would survive regardless of who’s in the White House.

There is the odd narrative misstep along the way, but generally holds you by the hand and leads you through a hear-warming, intelligent story that reaches a forgivably manipulative piece of sentimentalism that will bring a tear to your eye.