The Big Sick
The Big Sick
Release Date: June 23rd, 2017
Distributed by: Amazon Studios, Lionsgate
Directed by: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff
My wife Anita and I totally have a thing for Kumail Nanjiani. Not like a romantic thing, that would be weird. Then again, I can't really speak for Anita on this, so maybe her excitement whenever he pops up is just her expressing an undying love for the Pakistani-born comedian. Can't really blame her, then. Our appreciation for Nanjiani began when Anita wanted to binge The X-Files on Netflix, since I hadn't watched the show growing up. It's one of her favorites, and as we made our way through the 90's time capsule that was Monster of the Week with Fox and Dana, we would listen to accompanying episode's of Nanjiani's "The X-Files Files" fan podcast. This, in turn, was a spinoff of his other podcast, "The Indoor Kids," which he hosted alongside his wife Emily V. Gordon. Since then, Nanjiani has popped up in all sorts of shows and movies we love, including an episode of Tabletop (with Emily appearing in another), two episodes of Bob's Burgers, an episode of Archer, Hello My Name is Doris, and countless other animated and comedic TV shows and movies. And yet with all of these, I still haven't seen the two shows that probably got him on the map: The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail, and Silicon Valley (yes, I know. I'm behind on my HBO shows, sue me). Basically, all entertainment in my life is now 6 Degrees of Kumail Nanjiani, and I'm totally fine with that.
If you're not familiar with his work, Nanjiani specializes in a sarcastic deadpan delivery that catches the listener off guard. His chill and unassuming demeanor softens the more acerbic barbs, amd he has a genuine smile and a speedy wit. Nanjiani was born in Pakistan and moved to America with his family at a young age, and he touches on some of his life in the film, but the biographically-inspired The Big Sick is not about his early life so much as his courtship with his future wife and collaborator, Emily Gordon. Gordon is a former therapist who, while dating Kumail, was diagnosed with an illness that required her to be placed in a medically-induced coma. Hilarity ensued.
When the story opens, Kumail is working as an uber driver and stand-up comedian in Chicago, working gigs at night in hopes of impressing big-name talent agents. At one of his shows, he's heckled by Emily, played in the film by Zoe Kazan. They meet up afterwards, things take off, and despite both of their hesitations on long-term relationships, they begin to date. However, Kumail has been receiving increased pressure from his family to take the LSATs and settle down with one of the many Pakistani women his mother introduces him in hopes of setting up an arranged marriage. All of this—his family, the pressure to marry, the disatisfaction his family has with his career choices, etc.— are hidden from his girlfriend, and when Emily discovers how much Kumail is hiding from her, they break up. Afterwards, Emily becomes sick and is put into a coma, and Kumail, who still has feelings for her, refuses to leave her side. Her parents also arrive, and it's a rocky start for them all: they know how Kumail hurt their daughter, and they're not exactly fans of his. The movie really takes off from this point, as we go from the budding relationship between Kumail and Emily to his growing "relationship" with her parents.
Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents do a fantastic job, although it's a bit redundant to say so as everyone in this movie gives a great performance. There are a lot of complicated emotional scenarios at play here: the rebellion against heritage, the taboo of dating outside your culture, the severe illness of a loved one and child, the frustration at a stagnant career. Each actor, from Hunter and Romano, to Kumail's film family played by Adeel Akhtar (his brother Naveed), Anupam Kher (his father Azmat) and Zenobia Shroff (his mother Sharmeen), does a superb job capturing the delicate balance the film needs between comedy and drama.
There are some truly hysterical moments in this film, including a brilliant 9/11 joke (yes, really) and a segment where an emotionally-charged Kumail has a "moment" at a fast food drive-thru. Both of these scenes encapsulate the feel of the movie as a whole—that is, finding the cathartic release that humor grants us in dark and troubling times. There are some emotional moments too that leave the main character reeling, one of which involves Emily after she wakes up, and another where Kumail is taken to task by a marriage prospect.
This is definitely one of my favorite films of the summer, and it's a welcome reprieve from the seasonal glut of big-budget superhero and action titles that fill the theaters. Of course I love those movies to pieces, but something like The Big Sick is a great palette cleanser. It's smart, funny, and more importantly it feels very real. There's authenticity there behind the usual story-telling tropes and techniques we all expect, and that helps elevate this film in a way that others can't reach. I highly recommend checking this one out.
If the movie interested you or you'd like to hear more about it's creation and the background of its two star characters/writers, I also highly recommend checking out their interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.