The Big Sick

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UK Release Date 28th july 2017
Director Michael Showalter
Starring Kumail & Emily
Runtime 120 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 1st August 2017

For someone who remains convinced that rom-coms peaked with When Harry Met Sally back in 1989, I have to admit that it's not a genre I tend to get too involved in these days. My general level of world-weary bitterness has a horrible habit of tainting movies that rarely approach anything relatable and on the whole tend to treat their female characters as chump for the boys to chase around and save. But that's just me....

So the idea of spending Sunday afternoon watching a rom-com containing an actual comedian and a much touted 'based on a true story' didn't exactly thrill. Suffice to say, I was a way off on The Big Sick (which, by the way is an awful title - it sounds like something Michael Moore would make). Written by actual real life people Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani and telling a version of their actual real life romance, this follows Kumail (played by Kumail) as he struggles to make ends meet in Chicago, juggling his job as an Uber driver and his attempts on stage to be a standup comedian (Nanjiani's actual occupation in real life). At a fairly run of the mill gig, Kumail is 'whooped' by Emily (not played by Emily but by Zoe Kazan) in the audience. They meet in a bar later and one thing leads to another and they are soon dating, all be it in a slightly awkward 'two day maximum' sort of way.

In the background, Kumail's devout Muslim Pakistani family make continued attempts to match their son with an eligible Pakistani woman, something Kumail unwisely fails to share with Emily, much like he fails to share his actual relationship with Emily with his family. It is not until Emily falls gravely ill and ends up in a medically induced coma that Kumail is forced to face the cultural differences between his family and Emily's...

The Big Sick covers a lot of ground and from the outset it is clear that this is a very personal story, in that it is heartfelt and genuine but also encapsulates a rolling number of situations that can only have been written from personal experience. I won't spoil any of them but suffice to say, a good number of them are laugh out loud hilarious. The script is stuffed with such moments and the relationship it describes feels real and relatable and awkward and sad and exciting and all of the things that a young relationship is. This isn't something lifted high by a rousing ballad-stuffed soundtrack or meaningful moments of people staring into the distance sat on high-rise roofs. This builds the little things and although you buy into their relationship, you are never entirely sure they are going to stay the course, which of course they don't.

The relatively large contrivance that the writers lever into the story is the breakup that precedes Emily's illness. The couple crash and burn (which was not the case in real life), in order to fit the necessary punch into the running time. This also helps to ramp up the humour when Kumail is forced to deal with Emily's less than stable family. Father Terry (Ray Romano) and mother Beth (Holly Hunter) are themselves clinging to a relationship that's taken a few knocks and their dealings with Kumail are as funny as they are poignant. Never caricatures of dumb Americans, the couple initially struggle with Kumail's race but they are gradually won over as they are forced by circumstance to spend more time with him.

Meanwhile, Kumail's family are faced with the truth about their son, not only that he is seeing a white American girl but also that he is struggling with his Muslim faith. In truth, the American family is better served by the script but I didn't find the Pakistani side of the story as troubling as some critics. The family seem genuine and although Kumail's brother and sister-in-law are barely written, his parents (Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher) do not come across as religious idiots. They are first generation immigrants (in reality, they actually followed their son to the States), seem to really care for their son and struggle with the concept of him not staying true to his faith and the culture of the arranged marriage. Although most are played for laughs, some of the dates that are set up by his mother come across as quite touching, they are not just there to make white westerners feel better about their existence. In particular, Vella Lovell's Khadija is heartbreaking as the girl that, through no fault of her own is completely rejected by Kumail and therefore finally pushes him to admit his dishonesty with his mother.  

Nanjiani, a gifted comedian on the stage, is also very adept at playing himself (not as easy as it sounds), he is nicely self deprecating and his character is as well written as you would expect from somebody writing about themselves (he avoids any number of grandstanding moments). Though she spends a reasonable portion of the movie off screen, Zoe Kazan is wonderful as Emily. Bright and funny and full of energy, Kazan does well with a role that has to take into account a life changing situation. As Emily returns to health, Kazan's depiction of somebody struggling with everything that has occurred in her absence is extremely affecting. It's hard to comprehend (and very rarely dealt with in movies) how difficult it must be to catch up with relationships that have moved on so much whilst you've been unavailable, especially when so much of what has happened is centred around you.

In Brief
The Big Sick is a well written, wittily scripted movie that is honest about new relationships in the funniest possible way. Stuffed with the sort of wry observations about life, relationships, families and the low-end standup circuit that you would expect from a standup comic, the com doesn't in any way detract from the rom. Kumail and Emily make for an entirely charming and believable couple and, given the world we seem to be heading into currently, a movie with a Pakistani star is not one to be taken for granted unfortunately. So far, this one is absolutely crushing it at the box-office, especially given the small nature of the production and that can only be a good thing. The title is still terrible though.

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