Wednesday, July 26, 2017
The Big Sick
The Big Sick is the story of how Kumail Nanjiani, comedian and Silicon Valley co-star, met his wife Emily Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and called Emily Gardner here) and stood by her side during her serious illness early in their relationship. Nanjiani plays himself, he and Gordon wrote the script together and director Michael Showalter and producer Judd Apatow sublimate their own styles to serve this unusual story. There is also another story in the film, one about the balance between assimilating into American life and honoring one's own traditions. In the film Emily breaks up with Kumail when she discovers that he has been - against his will - meeting Pakistani women at his parents' insistence to enter into an arranged marriage. Kumail's parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) don't know about Emily and view marrying a Pakistani woman as Kumail's only option. We find out early on that Kumail has discovered his own values: told by his mother to go downstairs for daily prayers, Kumail sets the timer on his phone and waits out the time by watching YouTube instead.
The early scenes of Kumail and Emily together hit familiar meet-cute touchstones. Kumail flirts by writing Emily's name in Urdu, and she tells him she's too busy with graduate school to date but still takes his calls. Nanjiani and Kazan play well together though - Kazan is luminous and Nanjiani surprisingly charismatic when arguing with his parents about the future. When Emily is put into a medically induced coma Kazan's energy goes out of the movie and is replaced by that of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's worried parents. There is no plot as such to this segment of the film, or it might be more accurate to say there are too many plots. We detour into the parents' marriage and into Kumail's comedy career, but a romantic comedy where one partner isn't awake couldn't do much better than these actors. Hunter, highly caffeinated, is a ball of worry and misplaced anger while Romano is very good as a conflicted man working out how he feels about his own marriage.
Judd Apatow leaves his mark on most projects he produces (Bridesmaids), but he also knows how to support a strong vision (Girls). The Big Sick isn't as loose and bawdy as other Apatow films, though Nanjiani and Apatow both share a love for scenes of comedians ribbing each other. (The denizens of Kumail's comedy club include characters played by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and David Alan Grier.) There is also a very funny running bit about Kumail's one-man show about Pakistan that feels like it came from the ashes of something real. Anyone who has followed Nanjiani knows how The Big Sick turns out, but at the end the focus on adults making decisions is very welcome. There are no last scene of Trainwreck hijinks here. In a summer of the familiar, The Big Sick has found an audience and introduced new talent to the screen.