In case you haven't heard much about this film (it didn't have a HUGE buzz around it), it follows the first few months of the relationship between Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (played by the real-life Kumail, who you might know as Dilpesh from Silicon Valley) and his now wife, Emily V. Gordon. The barriers in their way? 1) His parents are strict Muslims which means that Kumail must have an arranged marriage (Emily is a white non-Muslim) 2) Emily gets VERY ill. Like, 'goes into a medically induced coma' ill. That's not a spoiler btw, it's in the trailer.
|Actual image of me trying to block out a woman's GLARING PHONE SCREEN. Srsly ppl.|
Talking of the trailer, there's one thing I want to get out of the way: all the best jokes are in there. For a film marketed as 'gut-bustingly funny', there are actually very few laugh out loud moments (I counted about 4), which puzzled me at first. However, after a less than promising start - watching stand up comedians doing comedy that isn't very funny, and then watching their 'banter' as they laugh at how funny each other are - the film thankfully takes a turn into something much more bearable. With the arrival of Emily, we soon start to realise that The Big Sick isn't a raucous, 40 Year Old Virgin type comedy that we might expect from producer Judd Apatow - it's a romantic indie drama with funny moments.
The chemistry between Kumail and Emily (played with nuance and charm by Zoe Kazan) feels authentic from the beginning. Their one-on-one scenes seem like they could have been (at least partially) improvised, their awkwardness giving way to a genuine fondness for one another. The whole story, based on true events and co-written by the real Emily, feels deeply personal. Whilst Kumail's 'comedy skit' moments come across as a tad self-indulgent, he is pulled back with a swift one liner every time. When Emily discovers his family's plans for his future (remember, the whole arrange marriage thing?), her reaction is believably shocked and embarrassed. And then she gets very, VERY ill.
|"Umm, who invited Paul Hollywood? Turn around and see what he's WEARING (but be subtle)"|
The next section of the film centres around Emily's parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and Kumail, as they come together unexpectedly at Emily's bedside. Having been fully briefed on the ups (and downs) of their daughters relationship with him, they are decidedly cagey at first. However, some of the funniest scenes in the film explore how these three work out their differences and get to know one another, whilst occasionally cracking under the pressure of having a loved one's fate in the hands of doctors. Romano doesn't overplay his role and fits perfectly as Emily's slightly socially awkward, wise-cracking New York dad with his heart firmly in the right place. I mean, everybody loves him, right?... Hunter is equally likeable as Emily's mother, a tough mid-westerner who doesn't mince her words (even though she sounds like she's gnawing on something most of the time).
Whist Romano and Hunter deliver a masterclass in portraying the complex emotions of marriage, Nanjiani doesn't do quite as good a job. It might just be something to do with his face, but every time he is supposedly 'breaking down with emotion', he looks like he wants to laugh. This is particularly uncomfortable in the bizarre scene where he decides to go on stage at a stand up gig and just start telling the audience about Emily's illness and how the infection is spreading whilst fighting back 'tears'. I mean, if you feel that terrible, you wouldn't do the gig. This is a shame, as a story that has real emotional resonance soon starts feeling overly sentimental due to this forced performance.
|Waiting for Season 8 of Game of Thrones like...|
However, what the film gets right is balancing these overly emotional moments with some truly wry comedy; which takes me to Kumail's very 'traditional' family. His mother's matchmaking as she invites a line up of single Pakistani women to just 'drop in' on family meals is a genuinely funny trope, and many of the film's laughs stem from the family's straight faces as Kumail tries to crack jokes ('always with the comedy' is his mum's long suffering catch phrase). The 'culture clash' gag which runs through the film is well judged; a scene in which Kumail is heckled by a racist bigot and defended by Emily's parents is both excruciating and moving to watch.
All in all, The Big Sick tells a worthy story with wit and charm. However, whilst it tries to be a modern day Annie Hall, it doesn't QUITE match up to this classic comedy status. With some overly cheesy screenplay and a little smugness, it nearly tips over the 'quirky for no reason' edge, but saves itself with a real heart and some strong performances from most of the leads. Definitely worth seeking out as a date night film when it comes to Netflix / some other streaming service.