Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Running time: 122 minutes
Release date: July 28th
It’s uncommon for true stories to lend themselves to comedy. Terminal illness, issues of race and battles with corporations or the government are more easily transposed to Oscar-winning dramas. Recently, Dunkirk reminded us of the tragedy, action and hope that spring so naturally from the true tales of war. Horror is sometimes accentuated by the fact that it has been based on true accounts (The Conjuring, The Amityville Horror). Even romance, the endeavour that so often finds us at our most ridiculous, is usually found in dramatic ‘true’ stories, like Titanic and Loving. The truth must be taken seriously, as far as Hollywood is concerned. But while The Big Sick, co-written by married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon based on their own true story, has all the makings of a tragic Lifetime original movie, it’s a funny and charming Apatow-produced romantic comedy.
Kumail (who plays himself) is a Pakistani-American Muslim, an aspiring comedian whose dinners with his family are routinely interrupted by young, attractive Pakistani women who would conveniently be perfect for the kind of arranged marriage that his parents and brother have already achieved, marriage which they believe is long overdue for Kumail. Unbeknownst to his family however, between these meetups, Kumail starts to date a white woman, the delightfully charming Zoe Kazan as Emily Gardner, based on the delightfully charming real-life Emily V. Gordon. The secrets and tension that arise from this situation are exacerbated when, for reasons which elude doctors, Emily falls ill enough that she must be placed into a medically-induced coma.
While Emily is unconscious, Kumail is forced to meet her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, on fantastic form), to wait by her sickbed, to confront his family about his attitude to his culture, and to reassess his priorities. What could so easily be Oscar-bait, however, is rendered instead as a film as pleasant and as charming as its two writers and its two leads.
The ludicrousness and difficulty of relationships is on full display here, recognizable to anyone, down to the family haranguing and issues with communication, even though in this particular instance it takes the shape of cultures colliding. The awkwardness of meeting the in-laws is heightened by the coma being their only immediate common ground, but is familiar to anyone who has had to ingratiate themselves to a significant other’s parents.
The Big Sick is highly amusing, and while it might not be the most raucously funny of the Apatow stable, it also manages to almost entirely avoid the usual failings that often hobble such pictures. Everyone in this movie is extremely likable, for example, with the slight exception perhaps of the usual Apatow-style group of friends, who are for some reason nearly always terrible.
This is a rom-com for everybody, check it out so you get to be the one who tells your friends about it.