The Big Sick seems a little perverse
The Big Sick (15, 120 mins)
Director: Michael Showalter
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter
Presumably there’s a pun here on Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, which again would have been a more appropriate title.
And this isn’t the only strange decision made by director Michael Showalter. Pakistani-American comic Kumail Nanjiani plays himself as he recreates his early relationship with his wife Emily V Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan).
The couple met at a comedy club when Kumail was a struggling stand-up, split up after a blazing row and got back together after he helped nurse her through a medically-induced coma.
As this is about a comedian and co-written by a comedian, I readied myself for a barrage of well-honed gags. But the film doesn’t seem overly interested in delivering one-liners. After a few (I assume) deliberately awkward early stand-up routines, the focus shifts to drama.
Kumail, who moved to Chicago from Pakistan as a teenager, is caught between two cultures. While he is busy plotting his career and romancing smart psychology post-grad Emily, his pushy mother (Zenobia Shroff) is researching law schools and auditioning Pakistani brides.
This is a dilemma that will be familiar to many in melting pot America and multi-cultural Britain. After East Is East,
My Big Fat Greek Wedding and countless “immigrant experience” dramas it probably feels a tad familiar to everyone else, too.
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After we buy into the couple during their breezy courtship, they split when Kumail chooses family over romance. Then that weird title comes into play.
Emily is struck down with a mystery illness and when the doctors decide to induce a coma it falls to Kumail to sign the consent form and track down her parents.
Meeting the in-laws has been mined for laughs plenty of times already but there’s heart as well as humour in Kumail’s awkward relationship with Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).
At first Beth is openly hostile to the man who has just dumped her daughter but after they bond at her bedside, a touching relationship begins to develop.
The real Emily co-wrote the script with Nanjiani and you can feel genuine affection for her father in the bumbling Terry.
“Nine/11? I mean, I’ve always wanted to have a conversation about it… with people,” he says to Kumail, in a toe-curling attempt to break the ice. “You’ve never talked to people about 9/11?” Kumail replies.
This horribly awkward conversation quickly develops into the film’s funniest and edgiest scene but only when its leading lady is unconscious is this rom-com really alive.