The Big Sick, 2017.
Directed by Michael Showalter.
Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano.
Kumail leads a double life: Uber driver by day, stand up by night. His heart lies with the second job and it’s in a comedy club that he meets Emily, who turns out to be the love of his life. Now he has to find his way through two equally treacherous minefields: modern dating, especially tricky when she is American and he comes from a traditionally-minded Pakistani family, and making his way up the ladder in stand-up, which has pitfalls of its own.
In the UK, we’ve grown used to films about culture clashes, especially ones involving families from the Indian sub-continent. It probably all started with Bend It Like Beckham, but there’s been plenty more since then. It’s easy to forget, however, that families from India and Pakistan ventured further afield – like to the States. Which is where The Big Sick comes in.
This time, however, we have a true story, of how stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his now wife, Emily Gordon. In a comedy club, of course. Nanjiani plays himself and the couple also wrote the screenplay. He’s Pakistani born, so his parents have definite ideas about finding him a wife, but he doesn’t see things that way and tries to lead a more independent life. Meeting Emily (Zoe Kazan) brings happiness – then more complications, then sadness.
It’s a gleefully funny film – a rom-com, of course, but one that brings some fresh perspectives, hand in hand with sparkle, style and, of course, a goodly dollop of romance. And that unusual angle – all those Pakistani traditions weighing down the family, the mother in particular – is a definite plus, as well as bringing some topicality to the subject. The screenplay draws on Nanjiani’s experiences – life in general, his relationship with Emily and his stand-up act – but it’s not simply full of jokes. There’s more than enough of them, alongside some great lines that demonstrate his blurred personal line between his comedy act and real life.
Aside from the humour, the film is also very touching. While the first half is comedy all the way – the couple meet, decide repeatedly not to see each other again but don’t stick to it until they seriously fall out – the second has a very different tone. Emily becomes dangerously ill and is taken into intensive care, putting Kumail in a difficult position. At which point we’re introduced to her parents, played by Holly Hunter and the terrific Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond. They don’t get on with each other and, to start with, they don’t get on with Kumail either. As Emily’s stay in hospital turns out to be longer than expected, they get to know each other – even though that turns out to be something of an uphill task.
It’s full of great comedy performances. Kumail himself, of course, whose near flat delivery is a joy to listen to. It’s impossible not to laugh at him. Romano is deliciously awkward, although well-intentioned, and Zoe Kazan gives a spirited performance as Emily. There’s real chemistry between her and Kumail: as well as being funny, they’re so obviously right for each other. If it weren’t for the circumstances, you’d be tempted to give them both a shake and tell them to get on with it.
Even non rom-com fans will find The Big Sick irresistible. There may be more laughs in the first half, but the second part has more than enough to keep you smiling. It’ll make you think as well and, if you’ve ever been in love, you’ll feel very much at home.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★