The Big Sick
dir Michael Showalter
prd Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel
scr Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V Gordon
with Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Sfiroff, Kurt Braunohler, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Shenaz Treasurywala, David Alan Grier
release US 23.Jun.17, UK 28.Jul.17
17/US Amazon 1h59
The Big Sick
Make us laugh: Kazan and Nanjiani

hunter romano sw
sundance london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Big Sick With a network of complex, realistic relationships, each with its own trajectory, this film feels rather long and somewhat tonally jarring for a comedy. It veers from snarky humour to giggly romance to some very bleak emotions as it goes along, but the themes it explores are powerfully resonant. And they give the film a surprising kick.

Kumail (Nanjiani as an only slightly fictionalised version of himself) is a Chicago stand-up trying to find success with his friends Mary and Chris (Bryant and Burnham) and his flatmate Chris (Braunohler). One night at a gig he meets Emily (Kazan), and their flirtation quickly turns into romance. But this is a problem, since Kumail's parents (Kher and Sfiroff) want him to marry a good Pakistani Muslim girl. With the relationship under this strain, Kumail also has an unexpected encounter with Emily's parents (Hunter and Romano) when she ends up in hospital.

Written by Nanjiani and his wife Gordon, the real Emily, the film is a thoroughly enjoyable depiction of a real-life romance in multi-cultural America. And it's packed with plot-threads that follow each relationship on-screen, not just the one between Kumail and Emily. There's also the interconnection between Kumail and his fellow comics, plus scenes with his brother (Akhtar) and parents, who have their own story to tell. And Emily's parents also have issues they are dealing with between themselves, added to their growing bond with Kumail.

In other words, each character comes to life with remarkable detail then develops in a distinct direction. The ensemble cast is excellent, anchored by a wry, offhanded performance from the puppy-like Nanjiani. If there are standouts, they would be Hunter and Romano, who bring sometimes startling layers of comedy and drama to their sparky roles. Kher and Sfiroff have even trickier parts to play, and underscore them with beautiful subtextual touches.

The film adeptly juggles big themes of religion, cultural expectations, relational honesty, career aspirations and more. And all of these things are lightly woven into a character-based plot rather than shouted too loudly. Instead, the smart script undermines any heaviness with razor-sharp humour that actually makes the ideas stronger. Director Showalter could possibly have pared the film down a bit, as it drags through the overlong third act. But it's difficult to imagine what aspect of this fully packed script he could have cut out. It definitely feels like a tonic for our, yes, sick times.

cert 15 themes, language 9.May.17

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall