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‘The Big Sick’ review: as hilarious as it is moving
July 27, 2017
Not just the perfect antidote to blockbuster season but undoubtedly the feel good movie of the year, The Big Sick is the title to seek out this summer if you wish to be thoroughly entertained, crack some serious laughs and at the same time ponder over some rather important matters that affect our society.
If you’re not familiar with the understated talent that is Kumail Nanjiani, this is an opportunity to discover one of the most original and hilarious voices in contemporary American comedy. On the other hand, fans of HBO’s hit show Silicon Valley – who are already acquainted with the Pakistani-American comedian’s dry-witted humour – will be delighted by his acting range in the film that marks his debut as a feature film screenwriter and lead star.
Although the Judd Apatow-produced rom-com pedigree is not necessarily a winning trademark per se these days, The Big Sick is more than your average indie dramedy strategically conceived for Sundance, in spite of actually debuting in Park City to general consensus back in January. If anything, Apatow’s involvement is commendable for enabling a now relatively established comedic talent to take it to the next level and get the big screen consecration.
What ultimately makes The Big Sick a winner is the genuine approach used to tell the real-life story of its protagonist. Nanjiani in fact co-wrote the script with wife Emily Gordon, portrayed in the film by Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) and besides the inevitable fictionalised dramatisation that cinematic storytelling demands, the couple’s authentic approach in crafting their screenplay clearly shows on screen.
Ever since the opening credits, which treat us to a slide show of vintage real-life photos tracing Nanjiani’s story from his childhood in Pakistan to his move to the US for college, director Michael Showalter reminds us that what we’re watching is indeed a true story at the core, without having to spell it out via screen captions. Nanjiani retains his full name for his on-screen persona whilst a little wordplay has turned his wife Emily from Gordon to Gardner. Whilst entertaining for trivia purposes, the intentional discrepancies between what’s real and what’s fictionalised is not relevant to the enjoyment of this lovely and inspirational story about identity and interracial love.
In a way, though not about teenagers, The Big Sick is a coming of age tale, proving there are multiple levels of growing up for us to do in life. In the case of Kumail Nanjiani, it’s all about finding the strength to face up to his traditions at the risk of losing his family, in order to become his true self.
At the beginning of the story our goofy protagonist is a Chicago Uber driver and college dropout who does stand up comedy in a small club and dreams of hitting it big with his artistic career. That of course clashes with his cultural background and with all that’s expected of him by his family, yet Kumail perseveres whilst making compromises in between.
He regularly attends family dinners where his mum ambushes him with pre-arranged dates with Pakistani girls, awkwardly disguised as casual “dropping by the neighborhood” scenarios. And whilst seemingly going along with such charades, Kumail only pretends to abide by his Muslim traditions, faking his prayer time and secretly hooking up with girls he meets at the club. One night however, during one of his stand-up acts, he gets “heckled” by a cute girl, Emily (Zoe Kazan), a psychology student he not only winds up in bed with but also falls for.
It’s the variable Kumail hasn’t considered so far in his deceiving routines and it’s meant to blow up in his face. When things get serious and Emily pushes for them to meet each other’s families, it doesn’t take long for the girl to find out about Kumail’s charade games with his family and subsequently break up with him. Although heartbroken, our protagonist gets back to his old ways until an unexpected call from Emily’s friend about a medical emergency involving the girl pulls him back into the emotional fray.
All of a sudden responsible for making decisions on Emily’s health, Kumail soon meets the girl’s overwhelmed and overwhelming parents – brilliantly portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano – and he’s eventually bound to confront his own family about it all. It’s indeed growing up time for Kumail, a lot is at stake and although navigating these uncharted waters with his unique blend of humour does help, when it comes to making life-changing decisions there’s only so much you can laugh about.
Hilarious as it is moving, this little film is full of heart and delivers a poignant and current message about following your dreams, being who you are and the healing power of true love. It is a pleasure and an inspiration to learn about Nanjiani’s real life experience, no matter how much has been changed throughout the screen adaptation process. By writing this film, the comedian and his real life screenwriter wife have crafted an authentic portrayal of the beauty and the challenges of interracial love that hopefully will spread light and positivity in a world currently poisoned by hate and fear.
Words by Francesco Cerniglia
The Big Sick is out in cinemas on July 28, 2017