By Troy Ribeiro
Film: “The Big Sick”; Director: Michael Showalter; Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burham, Aidy Bryant, Shenaz Treasurywala and Kurt Braunohler; Rating: ***
Despite a conventional and staid tale of “a brown Muslim boy dating a white non-Muslim girl” and navigating through modern living and traditional upbringing, “The Big Sick” is a heart melting romantic comedy that is refreshingly light-hearted. It is based on the real-life story of the Pakistan-born, US stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani.
The film begins with Nanjiani, an Uber driver and part-time comic, giving us an insight into his roots. The first act reveals how during one of his shows he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) who heckles him from her seat among the audience and the slow burgeoning romance between them while his culturally-orthodox parents, unaware of Emily’s existence, are trying to fix a girl for him. While following the expected rom-com beats, this section stands out due to the wonderful, quirky chemistry between the lead pair.
In the second act, their relationship falls apart after Emily learns that Kumail hasn’t admitted to his parents that he is dating a white woman and that she would never be accepted by his family. Seeing no future together, they break up.
But they are soon thrown together by happenstance, when Emily is admitted into the hospital for an inexplicable, life-threatening medical condition, which forces Kumail to sign the hospital papers to induce her into medical coma.
Soon, guilt and self-realisation draw upon Kumail, while he spends some awkward moments in the hospital along with Emily’s parents, who unlike his parents know everything about their failed affair. The third act predictably balances the heft.
Written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the script is straight from the heart. Layered with romance, culture clash and the professional struggle of the protagonist, the plot simply captures the right nuances and comic relief with tremendous sincerity that makes it relatable and appealing.
Humour is strewn sporadically by sardonic wit which is delivered with a straight-faced seriousness.
What also makes you appreciate in the film is the earnest performances of the cast. Kumail with his pokerfaced charm feels completely natural playing himself. Zoe Kazan emulates the vivaciousness of Kumail’s wife Emily effortlessly.
Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher, in relatively small but prominent roles as Kumail’s parents are stereotypical yet charming.
As Emily’s parents, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are a big draw. With well-etched character graphs and live-wire performances, especially Holly’s, they deliver substantially.
In other supporting roles, Bo Burham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler as Kumail’s best friends and co-comedians are perfunctory. In miniscule roles, Shenaz Treasurywala and Adeel Akhtar as Kumail’s sister-in-law and brother Naveed are wasted.
Overall, with moderate production values, “The Big Sick” is a pleasingly feel-good film.