While summer is known for blockbusters that take place on a massive scale, there’s always a few independent films that stir up some buzz from critics. Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is another example. Many have called it one of the most heartwarming films of recent memory. But does this critic share that sentiment? The following review will be spoiler free.
The Big Sick is directed by Michael Showalter and stars Kumail Nanjiani as himself along with Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano. The film is based on the real-life courtship between Kumail and his wife Emily V. Gordon (Kazan). After a one night stand that occurs following one of Kumail’s stand-up sets, the relationship between and Emily begins to blossom into the real deal. However, this union does not sit well with Kumail’s parents that come from traditional Pakistani culture that promotes arranged marriages. To make matters worse, Emily falls into a coma after contracting a serious illness, forcing Kumail to handle the tragedy with her parents whom he’s never met.
The Big Sick is one of many films that premiered at Sundance in January. After its success at the festival, Amazon Studios bought the distribution rights for $12 million, marking it as the second highest distribution deal from the festival. To add to its accolades, The Big Sick then aired at South by Southwest where it won an award for being a festival favorite.
As mentioned above, The Big Sick also acts as the next stepping stone for Amazon Studios. In a time where every streaming service is trying to expand into film distribution, Amazon could take a serious step forward with releasing another critically acclaimed film with Manchester By the Sea having been released last fall.
However, what makes this film even more fascinating is that it’s a true story. In fact, one could say that it was meant to be a great film. One reason that many romantic comedies fail is that they feel incredibly trite and predictable. The Big Sick, from the promotional material, appears to be taking genre cliches and flipping them on their head.
What I Liked
For a romantic comedy to work, you need the central relationship to work (obviously). Luckily for all of us, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are incredibly adorable together. Rather than relying on schmaltz or cheese to make us believe in this relationship, we get to see truly moving, but also rather mundane, moments in their courtship. There isn’t any cliched moments where the two kiss in the rain to the tune of an alt-rock band. Rather, we get to see ordinary instances that are told in an extraordinary ways.
Kumail Nanjiani is the clear standout of the film. Once Kazan’s character becomes ill, the entire movie is put on his shoulders. His smart, often awkward mannerisms are paired with well crafted scenes that’ll make you laugh hysterically and possibly even shed a tear. He plays to his strengths, allowing his stand-up career to play a prominent part in the film. The screenplay that Nanjiani wrote himself seems to play to the strengths of every actor involved in The Big Sick.
Every actor seems comfortable, with Nanjiani at the center of it all, both on and off the screen.
What I Liked…Continued
A large portion of the film occurs with Emily out of the picture, as mentioned above. Emily is practically nonexistent from the middle hour of The Big Sick, forcing you to focus on other elements of the movie. The key relationship in the film quickly becomes the interactions between Nanjiani and Emily’s parents played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. This relationship is told with touching, and often hilarious results.
There’s a very relatable aspect to how each of these three characters act towards one another. The Big Sick could have easily depicted the parents as one note.. But like both Kumail and Emily, they are portrayed with both positive and negative traits. Hunter and Romano feel like real people as the film progresses. Obviously, there’s a heighten nature to their actions in scenes that elevates the comedy or drama. However, their faults in their relationship adds an intriguing little wrinkle into the story that parallels nicely to Kumail’s own problems.
This element of the film definitely drags at times, causing the movie as a whole to feel about fifteen minutes too long. But, the journey is still very, very rewarding.
A special shouout goes to Ray Ramano. His sentimentaly as an actor plays as a perfectly awkward, flawed, but lovable dad.
What I Liked…Continued…Continued
Through the entirety of the film is the discussion of Pakistani culture and the practice of arranged marriages within that culture. Once again, The Big Sick could have taken the easy route and beat audience members over the head with the idea that racism is bad. Thankfully, The Big Sick is too intelligent for such rudimentary expression of themes.
Nanjiani’s race is merely another facet of his character. Sure, elements of race are discussed ad naseum. It would be weird if it wasn’t.
However, what makes the discussion of Pakistani culture truly compelling is that it is told without a slant or agenda. By simply telling the story as it should be told, themes of inclusion and cultural relations are very resonant. Although told with a completely different tone, it is very similar to 2016’s Moonlight in how it merely states the facts.
This layout leaves ample time for Kumail to struggle with his family and his culture, the conflict that should be the focus of the film.
The Big Sick is a triumph of a film. Not only does it display a relationship full of heart and warmth, it also has a lot to say about race and culture without making it a priority. It gets an A. I highly encourage you to seek out this film at a theater near you. It’s far more rewarding than most other films in theaters like Cars 3, Transformers: The Last Knight, or The Mummy. It may even be the funniest film of 2017 so far.
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