Movie Review: The Big Sick

A Pakistani-American comic and a heckler have an unlikely romance

The Big Sick (Pěkně blbě)
With Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

This year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival opened with The Big Sick, a romantic comedy about two people from different backgrounds. The film is now headed to local theaters.

The film is loosely based on the real experiences of screenwriter and star Kumail Nanjiani, an aspiring standup comic with Pakistani roots.

There are a lot of elements in the film that could have been cliched, but the film manages to avoid the pitfalls. Unexpectedly it is one of the better comedies of the year, and outshines many others that have had bigger stars and much larger budgets.

The honesty of the story puts it over the top. It tells an original story, and is not just another formulaic fish out of water story assembled from the standard comedy pieces.

Kumail Nanjiani basically plays himself, a character named Kumail. At one of his comedy shows he meets an American woman named Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), and chides her for heckling him. It is not exactly “meeting cute” but they start to see each other even though both say they are not looking for a relationship.

The film is mostly from Kumail's point of view. While his family is depicted with a bit of humor, it isn't ridiculed for not adopting American customs, which is one of the film's big pluses. The main thrust of the plot is that his family expects him to have an arranged marriage, and Kumail finding love with an American woman is not in the family's plans. Not at all.

The mother bringing in an endless line of suitable Pakistani woman whom Kumail is clearly not interest in becomes a running joke throughout the film.

The title The Big Sick hints at illness, and the film's riskiest part comes when Emily becomes very ill with a mysterious disease. Many truly terrible films use the cute romance followed by tragic illness plot, and after a promising opening for a short while it looks like The Big Sick is headed down this well-trod path to doom. But the audiences' fears are misplaced. This isn't another routine three-handkerchief tearjerker. The film goes off in a fairly original direction.

The disease plot does bring in Emily's parents, who are also not to thrilled with Kumail but for different reasons than his own parents.

To keep the film from being one-dimensional, there is also a subplot involving people from the standup club where Kumail performs hoping to get into a big comedy show.

Kumail Nanjiani might not be a household name to everyone, but he does have a following from podcasts he does and has a main role in the HBO series Silicon Valley. He has been in other cable series as well.

He essentially plays himself here, which can be quite difficult, especially when his character does some things that show him in a bad light. He is quite convincing, though, and seems quite sincere in his efforts to do the impossible of pleasing his family and living his own life the way he wants to.

Zoe Kazan, the granddaughter of film director Elia Kazan, is a rising star who has been in a number of small films including Ruby Sparks, which she also wrote. She shows an offhand comic talent with the character of Emily. The characters of Kumail and Emily seem to be a natural fit in the film, which is another big plus.

Some bigger stars come into the film as the parents. Anupam Kher plays Kumail's father. He has been in over 500 films and plays including Bend It Like Beckham. He has won numerous awards for comedy, but he plays the father with good amount of respect and doesn't turn him into a buffoon who is lost in American culture.

Emily's mother is played by Oscar winner Holly Hunter and her father by Ray Romano, former star of Everybody Loves Raymond. Hunter is a bit more of a background character, while Romano stands out more as someone who knows that life is never perfect and you just have to make the best of things and move on from your mistakes.

The Big Sick is a film for those who want something about real people in real situations, instead of the big-budget CGI spectacles that increasingly clog the theater screens.

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