The Big Sick

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Director: Michael Showalter

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham

Written by: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon

Running Time: 120 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 28th July 2017

The Big Sick hardly sounds like a crowd pleasing title for a romantic comedy. Yet if you can see beyond the title, you will find a very refreshing, often funny and unbelievably touching tale based on the true romance between its star and a girl he met in a comedy club. Thankfully for a modern American comedy, this one proves that you don’t need bodily fluids or body parts to raise more than a smile. In fact, this is one of the best comedies in a long time.

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Kumail is a Pakistani living in Chicago, whose family is very traditional, wanting to find him a wife for an arranged marriage while they long for him to be a lawyer or a doctor. Kumail has other plans: he drives a cab and does stand-up. One night he meets Emily and they start a relationship. Things go wrong and they break up, only for Emily to find herself in hospital after an illness and being put into an induced coma. Kumail, riddled with guilt, has to spend his time supporting her and coping with Emily’s parents while covering his tracks that he has been dating a white girl from his family.

This promotes itself as a romantic comedy which could be off putting to some. Most rom-coms involve two people who hate each other but are forced to put up with each other until they fall in love and there’s usually an elderly person who swears a lot. This is a misapprehension. It does have a romantic plot running through it but this is more a comedy drama than a sloppy, unfunny love story. It’s more about the differences in culture and family than anything else.

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Several times the film delivers killer lines after killer lines, usually brimming with awkwardness. A scene in which Emily’s father, trying to start a conversation with Kumail, asks him how he felt about 9/11, to receive the reply from Kumail: we lost 19 good men that day! Bad taste? Possibly, yet Kumail’s character is so likeable and quietly underplayed that you immediately laugh with him

The whole film works on the likeability of the characters. You have to enjoy being in their presence to enjoy a movie like this and thankfully, Kumail Nanjiani, its star and co-writer, (writing with his real wife, Emily V. Gordon) does exactly that. These aren’t one-dimensional individuals; they are nicely fleshed out and performed by an expert cast.  Nanjiani has an air of uncomfortableness about him, yet you immediately sympathises with his plight. How can you fall for a girl you know will offend your family without offending the girl? One of the strengths of the film is the family scenes, in which Kumail’s mother invites possible suitors for her son. The bizarre banter between father, mother and brother are often the film’s high points and feel completely real.

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Holly Hunter, as Emily’s mother, is always a joy to watch and she doesn’t disappoint here. She expresses herself brilliantly with just a look. Equally good is the laid-back style of Ray Romano as Emily’s father, who compliments Hunter terrifically. Yet the film belongs to Ninjiani, with his subtle underplaying and sharp comic timing, this is the breakthrough movie for him and expect to see him in more leading roles in the future.

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If there is one slight criticism, it’s the fact the film is slightly too long. At 2 hours it does have areas of bagginess but that is a minor quibble in a film that will make you laugh, make you cry but most of all, make you feel good inside. When questioning about the title, The Big Sick, does it mean the illness that Emily has, or that Sick, in slang, means good? If that is the case, The Big Sick means Big Good.



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