I'm not sure The Big Sick is the best title for a movie this great. It kind of conjures, without context, images of projectile vomit. You should be happy to hear this movie contains none of that. And on the other hand, there's still some real truth in advertising there: it really is about a woman who has to be put into a medically induced coma for several days. And that really is the backdrop for a story presented successfully as a romantic comedy -- one that is not only consistently funny but a truly original vision.
It's hard not to be in this case, given that it's largely based on Kumail Nanjiani's real-life experience with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the essentially perfect script with Nanjiani, who also stars. This really was what happened to them at the start of their relationship: they had not been dating long when Emily got sick and had to be put into a medically induced coma until she could be treated successfully.
Much of the dressing around that, in this movie, is fictionalized or at least embellished, a skill at which both Nanjiani and Gordon, as writers, excel. This rather crazy start to a long term relationship being based on a real event still lends the story an unusual authenticity. Not only is this nothing like anything else in theatres -- which is a major compliment -- but it also has an air of truth. Amazingly for a story this complicated, neither the tragic elements nor the humor are ever forced.
And there's a lot going on, even before Emily gets sick and hospitalized, maybe an hour into the movie. Kumail is a first-generation American Muslim whose parents are constantly bringing over would-be brides for the traditional marriage everyone else in his family has gone through. It's sad that this has to be mentioned, but it must be stated: The Big Sick also stands apart, big time, for its positive portrayal of Muslims in America. Kumail's family provides much fodder for very effective comedy, but never at the expense of their culture or their religion, both of which are clearly important to them and portrayed respectfully. Naturally they would be, given who co-wrote the script. On that point alone, America needs this movie right now.
When Emily does get sick, after Kumail's dishonestly about his parents potentially disowning him over dating a white girl results in their breakup, he winds up staying at the hospital nearly the entire time she's there -- along with her parents, who fly in from North Carolina. In a very strange, truly unusual scenario, Kumail gets to know Emily's parents with the backdrop of worry and grief, mixed with initial resentments that eventually evolve into appreciation.
Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan as Kumail and Emily are excellent as the central characters, but The Big Sick would simply not be the same without the supporting players: truly wonderful Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents; Zenobia Shroff and famous veteran Indian actor Anupam Kher are every bit as good as Kumail's parents. This stellar cast not only gives The Big Sick an unusually prestigious pedigree for a comedy -- let alone a romantic comedy -- it elevates its very sense of performance in general. Few comedies have performances this nuanced.
And I want to stress how funny this movie is. I mean, it's not going to make you laugh until it hurts -- that wouldn't be appropriate for this movie. What it will do is regularly surprise you with its humor, with jokes coming at a steady clip, the humor rooted in real comedic skill, on both the parts of the actors and the writers. The core of this story is obviously rather sad, and yet the writers, and director Michael Showalter, manage to infuse plenty of humor even in the midst of what are for the characters unbearably difficult circumstances. And the humor still works, which is perhaps most impressive of all. To call this a delicate scenario would be an understatement, and everyone involved in this movie walks the line perfectly.
I can't even think of any real criticism for this movie, a rare thing indeed. This is a film the fires on on cylinders. Everything in it works: it's touching, it's charming, it finds inventive ways to get you invested in the characters. It's just too bad about that title, at least for anyone who doesn't know anything more about this movie. The Big Sick will likely rely heavily on word of mouth. Well, take my word for it then. See this movie. You'll be glad you did.
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