Not only smart and thoughtful but also funny and heartfelt, “The Big Sick” brings some fresh air to its genre. Yes, it is basically another story of two different people getting romantically involved with each other, but this small but fabulous movie is imbued with lots of life and personality thanks to its witty screenplay and likable performances, and it will instantly charm you and then grow on you after it is over.
Inspired by a dramatic true story between its two screenplay writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the movie begins with the introduction of its young Pakistani American hero Kumail, who is surely the fictional version of Nanjiani and is naturally played by Nanjiani himself. While his traditional Pakistani parents want him to be a lawyer, Kumail has pursued the career of a stand-up comedian instead, and one early scene in the movie shows him and his colleagues preparing themselves for their another night of performance. Besides working at a comedy club in Chicago, he also works as an Uber driver, and we later see his small apartment where he has lived with his roommate Chris (Kurt Braunohler), who is also an aspiring comedian but is not that funny as shown from his below-average performance on the stage.
When Kumail is doing his performance on the stage during one evening, someone inadvertently heckles him, and that is how he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young graduate student studying psychology in the University of Chicago. After this amusing Meet Cute moment, they meet each other again at a nearby bar, and something instantly clicks between them as they talk more with each other, so they eventually go to Kumail’s apartment for spending the night together.
It initially looks like a simple one-night encounter, but then they soon become more serious about their relationship, and the movie gives us a number of humorous moments as their relationship is developed further with growing mutual attraction. There is a small but hilarious moment when Kumail comes handy as someone to drive Emily back to her place, and I also like a sweet scene where he tries to show one of his favorite old horror films to her. As a longtime movie fan, I understand well how eager he is to share his personal passion with her; I will certainly try the same thing if I ever happen to meet someone I really like.
While Emily wants him to meet her parents living in South Carolina, Kumail is reluctant about having her meet his parents. As a matter of fact, he never tells his family about her because he knows too well that his parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) will never approve of their son dating a white girl like Emily. They wholeheartedly want Kumail to marry a Pakistani woman just like Kumail’s brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) did, and there is a running gag involved with Sharmeen’s incessant attempt to introduce her dear son to any suitable woman for marriage.
Of course, Emily eventually comes to find what Kumail has been hiding from her behind his back, and that leads to their breakup, but then there comes an unexpected happening. A few days after their breakup, Kumail hears from one of Emily’s friends that Emily is sent to a hospital for an unidentified lung infection problem, and she is put into a medically induced coma for her treatment shortly after Kumail hurriedly arrives in the hospital.
When Emily’s parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Ramano) come from South Carolina, the situation is awkward for Kumail to say the least. They already know that he broke up with their dear daughter, but he continues to come to the hospital, and he accordingly spends lots of time with Emily’s parents while getting to know them more.
Never overlooking the serious aspects of its main characters’ circumstance, Nanjiani and Gordon’s screenplay smoothly moves back and forth between drama and comedy. While the scenes involved with Emily’s increasingly severe medical condition are depicted with honesty and sincerity, the awkward interactions between Emily’s parents and Kumail generate several entertaining moments of edgy humor, and one of the funniest moments in the film comes from when Terry clumsily attempts to start a conversation with Kumail at a hospital cafeteria. When Terry happens to mention 9/11, Kumail phlegmatically gives an acerbic reply, and that brief but priceless moment is effortlessly handled thanks to the performers’ precise comic timing.
Under director Michael Showalter’s skillful direction, the main cast members are uniformly good in their comic performances. Nanjiani, who has mainly been known for TV series “Silicon Valley”, is instantly amiable, and it certainly helps that he and his co-star Zoe Kazan have a good chemistry on the screen. While Ray Romano is surprisingly effective in his low-key role, Holly Hunter brings considerable spunk and humanity to her colorful Southern character, and she is simply terrific when her character confronts a guy who rudely heckles Kumail with racist insults. On the opposite, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, and Adeel Akhtar are excellent as Kumail’s family members, and Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler are also solid in their small supporting roles while providing some extra fun.
“The Big Sick” is produced by Judd Apatow, who made a number of very funny comedy films including “The 40-year-old Virgin” (2005), “Knocked Up” (2007), “Funny People” (2009), and “Trainwreck” (2015). Like these films, “The Big Sick” shines with its sharp wits while openly showing its sincere heart, and it is alternatively funny and touching its deft mix of comedy and drama. As many people already said, this is indeed the crowd-pleasing movie of this year.