THE BIG SICK review by Rahul Vedantam – Kumail Nanjiani stars in a autobiographical dramedy

THE BIG SICK review by Rahul Vedantam – Kumail Nanjiani stars in a autobiographical dramedy

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“Write what you know” is a common piece of advice given to the aspiring writers of the world, and there is a reason for it, as evidenced by THE BIG SICK. Based on the real-life love story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan), where early into their relationship she fell into an 8-day coma after they had just broken up, and Kumail was learning to decide between his cultures. The story goes beyond simple rom-com and discusses both their relationships and cultural assimilation with vulnerability and humor, and comes together to form something greater.

Producer Judd Apatow and director Michael Showalter allow Nanjiani to really play himself, comedic personality and unique voice shining through. The parallels to Aziz Ansari’s series MASTER OF NONE are huge: abandoning tradition, arranged marriages, along with a very contemporary and honest style of directing. Yes, they have a meet cute and their one-night stand blooms into more. Yes, as they fall in love, their dynamic will make you say “aww.” And yes, it seems that Emily almost dying seems like an emotional tactic to show the true love that Kumail has for Emily. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t feel that way. Even when Emily emerges from her coma and sees Kumail’s dedication to her, she still doesn’t take him back. You feel for Kumail’s pain but understand Emily’s reasons. Their ups and downs aren’t pandering to your emotions because both open themselves up in ways that welcome you to invest in them and put yourself in their story.

Kumail and Zoe aren’t the only the only two actors in the movie. Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are very important to the story being told. Their interactions with Kumail provide important dramatic and educational moments for Kumail. And this movie is a reminder that Holly Hunter is a GREAT actress, and she really carries a lot of the emotion of the movie. Emily’s coma will put a strain on the relationship between Hunter and Romano’s characters. They will spend time apart, which will allow Emily’s dad to bond with Kumail and provide a father figure role. It adds a B-plot that keeps the movie going as we await Emily’s inevitable awakening. Zoe Kazan is an underrated performer in Hollywood. I haven’t seen her since RUBY SPARKS (a film she also wrote) and am elated to see her in this. She brings the charisma to the relationship between the two. Kumail’s dramatic acting is easily the most challenging of the cast – he did take acting classes leading up to the film – but it doesn’t distract from the overall quality of the production too much. The overall writing of the film doesn’t really reach the dramatic punch Kumail probably desired. Judd Apatow is known for being a more comedic focused director for his rom-coms, accompanied with Kumail’s acting skills, the drama of the film was never going to reach a level that pushed the material over the edge.

Let it not be forgotten the “com” part of rom-com. Jokes are nicely paced throughout the course of the movie, with the film’s unique perspective offering some great jokes. The scene of Ray Romano and Kumail in the hospital cafeteria absolutely kills. There are also a few scenes early on with Kumail’s fellow Chicago comics, and the film takes advantage of that and lets Bo Burnhum and Aidy Bryant just be funny.

The film is also able to tackle racism in America by only examining a manageable handful. Kumail endures some racist heckling from his audience, but it’s clear the his goal for the movie was to combat racism by simply providing an inside perspective of what it’s like to be a Pakistani immigrant in America. To show the natural conflict immigrants have with American culture, but also how that is only a small part of a very standard paradigm of rebellion against conservatism that is so American. He is able to achieve most of these goals with an adroit hand, and with this THE BIG SICK becomes a lot more than your standard rom-com.

THE BIG SICK opens in limited release on June 23, expanding wide July 14, 2017

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