Wednesday, November 08, 2017

"The Big Sick": review

2017's "The Big Sick," directed by Michael Showalter, is based on the life of its star, Kumail Nanjiani, who was born in Pakistan and came to New York. Starring along with Nanjiani are Zoe Kazan as Emily Gardner and the very unlikely comic pairing of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents, Beth and Terry Gardner.

Kumail is a standup comic and part-time Uber driver. During one of his nightly shows, he meets Emily, a young woman who catcalls during his act. After his set is done, Kumail meets Emily at the bar and half-jokingly accuses her of heckling him; in no time at all, they end up at his apartment, where they engage in a one-night stand. As Kumail is Uber-ing Emily home, he and she think of reasons not to see each other again, and even though they say "goodbye forever," they end up hooking up yet again. And so it goes for the first part of their dating life: goodbyes are followed by dates, and the two fall in love.

Despite how Americanized Kumail himself has become, his Pakistani parents are still deeply rooted in the ways of the old country, and this includes the notion of arranged marriage. Kumail's mother, in particular, insists on having Kumail meet woman after woman during their periodic family dinners (Kumail lives downtown, and his parents live in the suburbs): the idea is that the woman is invited in, and she hands over a writeup of her "credentials" along with a photo of herself. The dinner then becomes a sort of informal interview during which Kumail is extremely uncomfortable. After the dinner/interview is over, Kumail ends up taking the woman's writeup and photo back to his apartment, where he then stores the rejected woman's record in a cigar box.

Kumail finds himself in a bind: he doesn't have the courage to tell his parents he has fallen in love with the non-Pakistani, non-Muslim Emily, and he doesn't have the courage to tell Emily that his mother is forcing him to endure a parade of eligible (and beautiful, I should add) Pakistani women. While he's not exactly lying to anyone, he's being strategically silent, which comes down to the same thing.

As you might guess, Kumail's reckoning comes when Emily one day discovers his cigar box full of beautiful women's profiles. This results in a blowup, followed by a breakup. And then—in a twist worthy of a Korean drama—Emily suddenly falls ill, felled by a mysterious disease. Kumail learns of Emily's illness from a friend, and he insists on being by her side despite their having broken up. While Emily is in a medically induced coma (all of this is "the big sick" of the movie's title), Kumail makes the acquaintance of Emily's parents, Beth and Terry. It's a rocky start at first, but the Gardners eventually warm up to Kumail, and all three of them keep a vigil by Emily's side.

I have to confess that I normally can't stand romantic comedies. They all follow the same damn formula of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy recovers girl." "The Big Sick" is no exception (the script was cowritten by Kumail Nanjiani and the real-life Emily Gordon, who is now Kumail's wife), but because the story is well written and because it's based on actual events, I found the movie to be heartwarming and believable. Most romantic comedies fail in terms of credibility, but "The Big Sick" feels authentic at every beat, including Emily's sudden and devastating illness.

It would never have occurred to me to pair up Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, but the two work surprisingly well together in the roles of Emily's parents, who are having their own marital difficulties. The movie doesn't have too many minor characters, aside from the other standup comedians in Kumail's life, which allows the story to focus on fleshing out the main characters. This is much to the screenwriters' credit: everyone and everything is in his/her/its proper place. Nanjiani and Kazan (as Emily) also play off each other very well, although Kazan spends much of the movie in a hospital bed. Nanjiani's evolving relationship with Emily's parents, however, is the highlight of the film as the three move from frostiness to real warmth.

The movie seems to come with a moral, too: goodbye is never goodbye. The running joke from the start of the film replays itself, in a somewhat different manner, at its end, and we viewers can be comforted by the idea that relationships can be broken, but they can also be mended through time, love, and forgiveness. If you haven't seen "The Big Sick" yet, I strongly recommend it to you—especially if, like me, you're a hater of most romantic comedies.

1 comment:

John from Daejeon said...

Kumail Nanjiani is becoming a real double threat in the entertainment business. On the latest season of "Silicon Valley," he's eclipsed many other members of the cast. Here are
two short scenes that combine to make one larger one of Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) finding out he's going to be personally liable for $21,000,000,000 for failing to have the users of his app sign the terms of agreement.

Kumail really is really nailing it these days entertainment-wise, and he fits in pretty well in Hollywood as he leans far, far to the left.