The cultural differences of two smitten lovers gets pushed from-and-center during a trying time known as “The Big Sick”. Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the movie tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (Nanjiani), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his routine standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing after the two find it difficult to be apart from one another, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily is beset with a mysterious illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) whom he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart. “The Big Sick” is directed by Michael Showalter, and is rated R for adult language, including some vulgar sexual references.
“The Big Sick” is not a Judd Apatow written or directed movie, but it is produced by the critically acclaimed mastermind of movies like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Trainwreck”, and while he holds the minimalist of responsibilities on this production, his stamp is clearly evident in Michael Showalter’s picture. This is the latest in a growing trend of film trailers these days that market a movie one way, only for it to be a totally different animal when you sit down and actually watch it. To say that “The Big Sick” is a comedy, might be completely irresponsible. This is very much a dramedy with a sprinkling of romance thrown in for good measure, and what could be considered a bit of a Frankenstein concoction does have its overall moments of light-hearted warmth and tender compassion that makes this one a worthy date night choice for him and her. Apatow has done this a lot in his career, substituting consistency in comedy for an appreciated level of heart, but Showalter doesn’t seem capable enough of balancing the same elements cohesively, instead opting for one tone at a time in each act. The film for me was decent, But even still, the run time of just over two hours proves to be a comedy’s undoing, and this definitely feels like one of those films where the problems become more evident the longer it rolls on.
Without a doubt, the film’s strongest point for me was during the first act, when we meet and establish the growing chemistry between our two leads that sets up future events. This feels most faithful to the kind of film that we were supposed to get from the trailers, and it definitely serves as a comedy during these peaks, with precision in comedic timing, as well as (thankfully) a minimal offering of improv dialogue. This is clearly a movie in which we know where it’s headed because of the title, as well as it being a real life love story, so I appreciated it so much more when the real life couple who penned this script slowed down and took their time developing the elements that made their union intriguing. The contrast between their traditions and families, with Kumail being from Pakistan, clearly plays an inconvenient entanglement to what he feels he deserves out of life, and the movie is never afraid to back away from our two protagonists to observe and depict what an Indian family considers valuable. Informative, while still being poignantly clever, “The Big Sick” felt like it could only get better from here. Then it happened.
For how much fun and expression that resides within the first half of the film, the second half takes a sharp left turn that has it submerged in too serious of waters to keep up its wit and charm factor. When you look at a film like “Trainwreck”, there is a point where it becomes strictly a romantic movie, but it never completely abandons what brought its butts into the seats in the first place; comedy, and sadly “The Big Sick’s” dry closing moments elated the air slowly out of the inflated tires that kept this film chugging along. Most notably, the stark change in Kumail’s character to one of growing mature decision maker feels like a cop-out on how we got there in the first place, especially considering he has all but moved on from Emily before he gets the call that she is in the hospital. The ending itself feels like it should go on for fifteen more minutes, but the run time tells us otherwise. This leads me to believe that some of the best and most fascinating points to this couple’s story is omitted from the film to instead give us a kind of “While You Were Sleeping” direction with her parents. If this wasn’t enough, the stand-up scenes, while important to Kumail’s backstory, offer very little weight in the overall grand picture with the film’s sudden change in direction. To say there is an overabundance of stand-up scenes is putting it lightly. A couple of scenes are fine, but there’s so much out of this direction of the script that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor, and it feels like the film drags the most during these lesser-sporadic drop-in’s. I’m also not sure if it’s a point that real life is dramatically funnier, but like all Apatow movies in a stand-up club, the comedy inside isn’t funny at all. When the comedians in the film miss their mark, how can we expect the regular every day person to meet it?
One aspect that doesn’t disappoint however, is the unabashed chemistry between Kumail and Zoe Kazan, as well as the all-around performances that kept this movie from the waters that were slowly sinking it. Kazan in particular is starting to get more female leads in her resume, and it’s totally deserving. As Emily, we see a down-to-Earth young adult who lives fast, but knows when to turn on the sweetness to her character. We fall in love with her the same way Kumail does, and her presence on the film is definitely noticeable during her absence. It’s crazy to think that Nanjiani has now done over twenty feature length films in his young career, but this is clearly his best performance because he lived through these events that shaped him. It’s rare that we get the real life figure playing his character in the movie, but Kumail proves that there was no choice better, with a dry stick and stone-faced reactions that will bring a hearty chuckle to your responses each time he’s on. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are also a delight, and speak volumes to the actuality of a married couple that have been together for far too long. Hunter is a firecracker, exuding a tough presence outside, while crumbling inside at the world that is coming down around her. Romano kind of plays to the “Good cop” here, opening up to Kumail a lot warmer than his female counterpart. Together, the two feel authentic based on their speech patterns and arguments about something so little that turns into a mountain.
THE VERDICT – “The Big Sick” wasn’t quite the cinematic explosion for me that critics were raving about, but there is enough laughs and romantic delight from Nanjiani and Kazan during the first half to recommend it during a quiet evening in. Had the second half not fallen so flat in personality and trimmed about fifteen minutes off of its final runtime, then Showalter’s film about appreciating the pleasantries that we have when they’re available to us might have been the perfect project to combat those shallow romantic genre offerings that lay it on too thick. Even still, this true story has enough turns to keep its gears constantly grinding through the thick of stand-up distractions.