UK Release Date: 28th July 2017
Runtime: 120 minutes
Director: Michael Showalter
Writer: Emily Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Kurt Braunohler
Synopsis: A Pakistani stand-up comedian forms a relationship with a white girl, until culture drives them apart. He finds himself back in her life when she falls ill and is placed into a medically-induced coma.
Rave reviews have so far greeted The Big Sick, which is something rather different to the usual school of Judd Apatow comedies. It’s a film that feels raw and authentic – mostly because it is. Star Kumail Nanjiani also co-wrote the film with his wife Emily Gordon and it’s about their unusual relationship, which begins as a culture clash story as a result of Nanjiani’s strict Muslim upbringing and then morphs into something completely different when Emily falls ill and is placed into a medically-induced coma. The result is a fun comedy that trades in a compelling stranger-than-fiction tale, but occasionally forgets that it’s supposed to devote its attentions to making you laugh.
The film’s version of Kumail is working in the lower tier of Chicago’s stand-up comedy scene when he is heckled one evening by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The duo begin dating, but Kumail’s family keep inviting over Muslim girls in the hope of arranging a marriage for him. When Emily discovers this, she breaks up with him and the two do not speak until Kumail gets a call telling him Emily is in hospital. Despite their initial misgivings, Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) soon warm to Kumail, but Emily might not feel the same when she finally wakes up.
The Big Sick is, first and foremost, a defiantly amiable comedy movie. It’s a gentle journey into an incredibly real world, which is sharply observed by Nanjiani and Gordon. There are very few actual enormous belly laughs in the script, but there’s a clear depiction of Kumail and Emily as witty, funny people who are immediately compatible with each other and, therefore, believable in a relationship. When they split up at the end of the film’s whirlwind first act, we want them to get back together. The fact we already know that the couple end up happily married is an unavoidable issue, but one that does torpedo some of the tension.
Much of the praise in terms of the film’s likeability must go to the performances of the two leads. Both Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan bring a real warmth and intelligence to their roles and the chemistry between the two of them is enviable. The colourful supporting cast, though, takes up the slack with aplomb when the plot moves Kazan into the background. Romano and Hunter are sweet, but prickly, as Emily’s parents, with Romano getting many of the script’s best lines. Hunter, though, gets her own comedy highlight when she defends Kumail in feisty fashion after a heckler tells him to “go back to ISIS” during a gig.
The problem is that The Big Sick just isn’t quite funny enough. Gentle wit and believable characters aren’t quite enough to keep the film moving and, when the tone veers into more serious territory, Nanjiani’s acting suffers a little and there’s a repetitiveness to many of the hospital scenes. The film is also a classic example of Apatow bloat, stretching to two hours when a bit of comedic streamlining could have produced a lean 90-minute feature free of soapy filler.
For all of its flaws, though, The Big Sick is an enjoyable and charming slice of comedy cinema that includes its fair share of killer lines – albeit spread rather thinly across a bloated runtime. Nanjiani and Kazan have enough chemistry to carry things through and Nanjiani’s knowing commentary about his Muslim upbringing lands in a really intriguing way that could’ve done with more dramatic examination. Unfortunately, as much as most of the film rings true, it doesn’t ring funny. And that’s what it needed to do.
Pop or Poop?
As a comedy, The Big Sick struggles with the amount of drama it is forced to juggle. As a drama, it suffers from the fact we already know the happy ending is on the way. That doesn’t, however, prevent the amiable script and witty dialogue from raising plenty of smiles as the story progresses, largely thanks to Nanjiani and Kazan’s eminently plausible takes on the central roles.
A little more polish on the script and some strict pruning in the editing suite could have made this a truly impressive comedy.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.