Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love. Pakistani immigrant turned American citizen Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is looking for his big break in comedy consistently doing stand-up at a Chicago club and making ends meet as an Uber driver. One night, he’s heckled—affectionately—during a comedy set by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off instantaneously and begin a relationship.
It isn’t without troubles. Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents want him to marry in preordained fashion, and would disown him if they found out he was dating an American woman. Not wanting to divulge his new relationship to his family frustrates Emily to the point of relationship dissolution, who has already informed her mother Beth and father Terry (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) that she’s seeing someone seriously. A most unfortunate event occurs that forces Emily’s parents and Kumail to be together, learn from one another, and keep hope that things will get better for the person they love.
“Based on a true story” is something hardly ever prefaced or alluded to in romantic comedies. Maybe more rom-com flicks should seek to do so. The Big Sick markets itself as “an awkward true story.” While embellishments are present, the relative accuracy of it all makes for a fascinating view in a genre sometimes devoid of them.
Something special can be seen early on in The Big Sick. From the moment Zoe Kazan’s character heckles and teases Kumail, there’s an immediate and—for lack of a better word, lovable—chemistry that provides the romantic foundation for the entire movie. Hopefully this serves as a launching pad for both leads. Nanjiani particularly, known for Silicon Valley and various bit roles in mainstream comedy, possesses the talent to be successful in many genres. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) is along for the ride, placing all of his focus on the characters, though he’s not without some nice back-and-forth over-the-shoulder camerawork in intimate scenes.
The first act is pretty straightforward, and if this ended up being a basic Jim-and-Pam “will they, won’t they?” affair, it would still be entertaining due to the aforementioned leads doing the work they do. But, the second act rolls around and makes an infectious love story much more. Writers Nanjiani along with his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon put focus on the culture clashes when introducing Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (strong work by both) into the film, which makes for early awkwardness which eventually transitions into acceptance and appreciation at a natural pace. The duo also goes deeper into the Pakistani culture, expectations, and self-identity placed on Nanjiani by his family. Some of it is amusing in its presentation, but some of it is equally emotional and very moving; a story that doesn’t need the romantic aspect for people to connect to it.
I’m all for improvisation in comedy, but not when it’s predominant and in place of an obviously weak or nonexistent script, which feels more like the norm nowadays in most mainstream comedy offerings. In The Big Sick, there’s no improvisation because the movie doesn’t need any. Jokes are well written, and there’s rarely a time in which something said or done by characters isn’t scoring laughs on a big level. Its comedy runs just about all of the gamut: dark, light, sweet, uncomfortable, you name it. If there were but one minor issue, the occasional transition from heavy drama to cutting it up in the comedy club backstage with hopeful up-and-coming comedians looking for their big breaks is a little clunky.
At the end of the day, The Big Sick drops by into the marketplace taking the mantle as the best comedy of the year to this point. But that would be selling short The Big Sick, which does a lot as an overall feature to put it on the list of 2017’s healthier quality viewing options.
Photo credits go to abcnews.com, comingsoon.net, and burnsfilmcenter.org
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