Saturday, July 15, 2017

New Release! The Big Sick (2017) [Spoiler-Free]

Director: Michael Showalter

A great movie, regardless of genre. Yes, technically it's a rom-com, but it is one with vastly slyer humor and more depth than much of that genre's fare.

Based much on the real-life experience of Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the movie and co-wrote it with his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick charts Kumail's initial meeting, relationship, and massive tribulations with the woman who would eventually become his wife. Kumail, whose family emigrated from Pakistan, is an aspiring standup comic in Chicago. When a young American woman, Emily (Zoe Kazan) good-naturedly heckles him during a performance, a romantic relationship begins between the two. What initially seems to be a low-committal relationship of convenience grows over several months into a genuine love. The problem, however, is that Kumail's conservative parents plan for him to marry a Pakistani woman, in keeping with their traditions. Things are much further complicated when Emily falls horribly ill and is put into a medically-induced coma. This forces Kuwail to reckon with his feelings for Emily while he also deals with Emily's parents.

The movie hits every mark that one would expect from a rom-com. The meet-cute. The adorably budding romance. The massive bumps in the road to mutual happiness. The development of understanding of others through shared difficulties. The reconciliation and happy ending. Nothing about the broad plot strokes is particularly surprising or original. Rather, it is in the details and execution that this movie stands out. While my wife is something of a rom-com connoisseur, I count only a handful of them as enjoyable enough to watch more than once. In recent years, Man Up is one that comes to mind. The Big Sick, however, may be the best one that I've ever seen. The comic writing is as good as any I've seen in such romantic movies, which is no surprise when you remember that Nanjiani and Gordon are a seasoned standup comic and comedy writer, respectively. The gags, which are often hilariously profane, almost always hit. This is true even during uncomfortable moments such as in the hospital while Emily is in her coma. Wringing humor out of such grave situations is no easy task, but Nanjiani and Gordon do it time and time again.

But there are certainly other rom-coms that have featured solid comic writing. What sets The Big Sick apart are the larger and very real themes at play. The primary one is the clash of cultures between Kumail, Emily, and their sets of parents. Without oversimplifying or coming off as judgmental, we get to see the very real anguish that is caused when children rebel against their parents' wishes. It is mostly through Kumail's parents that we see this, as they repeatedly try to set him up with one potential bride after another, only to have Kumail deflect and delay the inevitable decision - coming clean to his parents about his real desires or submitting to their vision of his future. It would have been far too easy to cast these parents as oppressing villains, but the movie does no such thing. Though Kumail's parents are the butt of more than a few jokes, it eventually becomes clear that their sacrifices and hopes for their son arise from genuine concern for not only him but also their value of their own culture. Romantic comedies rarely take on larger themes such as these or have the courage to completely humanize the forces obstructing romantic love, but The Big Sick does it expertly.

Kumail at the dinner table with his family, almost certainly
a mere couple of minutes before yet another "surprise"
Pakistani bachelorette drops by for a little visit.
Rounding out this excellent movie is the supporting cast, which is perfect. All of the actors who portray Kumail and Emily's family members are spot-on. The most recognizable to American viewers will be Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play Emily's parents, and are brilliant. Just as good, though, are Indian acting legend Anupam Kher and Zenobia Schroff as Kumail's immigrant parents. Each of these four bring the comic and human aspects of their characters very much to life.

I highly recommend this movie to nearly everyone. As long as a fair amount of blue language and some frank and honest exploration of sexuality doesn't bother you, you are bound to enjoy a lot of what The Big Sick has to offer.