Kumail Nanjiani is a likable fella. He’s down-to-earth, quick-witted, and quite funny. I had the pleasure of watching him introduce the boisterous 1993 Indian film, Khal Nayak, at Fantastic Fest last year and his intro was easily the best of the fest (out of 30+ intros). His brand of humor is genuine and accessible, filled with honesty and sarcasm. Nanjiani is a stand-up comedian, a podcast host, a writer, and an actor. He’s had small roles in several movies over the past few years, including The Kings of Summer and Hello, My Name is Doris, but he’s probably best known for playing Dinesh on HBO’s Silicon Valley. His newest project, The Big Sick, is his biggest role yet; Kumail stars as a slightly fictionalized version of himself in a movie he co-wrote with his wife, writer/producer Emily Gordon. The film was inspired by their relationship and real-life events like how they met. (Spoiler- it wasn’t on Tinder.)
The Big Sick is cinematic medicine. It goes down easy and makes you feel good. The wedded scribes crafted an old-fashioned rom-com-dram that consistently brings the laughs and bares its heart. Zoe Kazan plays Emily, and she and Kumail pair well together on-screen, but it is another duo — Nanjiani and Ray Romano — who steal the show. Romano plays Emily’s grizzled, grief-stricken dad to perfection and he’ll probably garner some awards buzz in the best supporting actor category. All of the casting’s solid; Holly Hunter plays Emily’s mother, Indian acting legend Anupam Kher plays Kumail’s father (appearing in his 500th film), Zenobia Shroff plays his mother, and BAFTA winner Adeel Akhtar plays his brother. Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, Hello, My Name is Doris) provides steady, non-flashy direction, and Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel produced.
The movie follows Kumail, a struggling stand-up comedian/Uber Driver from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family. His mother desperately wants him to marry and she relentlessly tries to set him up with a bride, but Kumail has no interest in an arranged marriage. An interaction with a ‘heckler’ (Emily) at one of his shows turns into a fling, and even though neither of them really wants it to become a thing, there’s no denying their connection. Unforeseen circumstances cause strangers to meet and cultures to clash, and the dramedy (mostly comedy) ensues.
In a lot of ways, The Big Sick, reminded me of Gillian Robespierre’s 2014 film, Obvious Child, starring comedian/actress Jenny Slate. Both films do a great job of balancing humor with drama while remaining entertaining and maintaining a high level of realism. Both films are powered by and take on the personality of their comedic centerpiece. Both films deal with serious subject matter that isn’t typically associated with romantic comedies, but still exude a quirky charm and honest tenderness. (Come to think of it, Kumail Nanjiani and Jenny Slate should star in something together. They’d make a fun pair.)
Even though The Big Sick is refreshingly authentic, and despite the fact that it’s inspired by real-life events, something about it still feels a little constructed, or by-the-numbers. After the general premise is laid out, the movie plays out quite predictably and it hits the same dramatic beats as some lesser, more-formulaic rom-coms. The good far outweighs the bad, however, and the movie’s witty script and complex characters are a breath of fresh air amongst the slate of summer spectacle. Go getchya some cinematic medicine.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
The Big Sick is now playing in theaters.
Check out the menu inspired by The Big Sick, now available at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.
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Check out the Critics Circle on Radio Brave, the Houston Film Critics Society’s weekly program.
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