The Big Sick

Star of Silicon Valley Kumail Nanjiani is giving his first big break on the big screen and giving the big thumbs up from super producer Judd Apatow in the tragi-comedy The Big Sick,  based on real life events about Kumail’s now wife Emily V. Gordon, played by indie darling Zoe Kazan in the film, falling into a coma not long after meeting and breaking up.

The script doesn’t stray too far from the truth, with Nanjiani keeping his own name and showing him as an early comic in Chicago playing on his Pakistani upbringing, where ‘complimentary heckler’ Emily thrusts into his life as a free spirited psychotherapy student. Elusive and aloof, Emily blows hot and cold as to what she wants. Not without his own secrets, he regularly visits his family for dinner, which always involves a guest who “just happens to be in the neighbourhood”, as a potential candidate as a future wife. Nanjiani doesn’t have the heart or stomach to tell his family how he has abandoned Islam and the culture, knowing it could see him being ostracised from his family.

Torn between two loves, when Emily uncovers his secret, he confesses he can’t see a future with her. Heartbroken she splits up with him. Not long later, he is being called to look after her at hospital by her university friends as she is alone there. But in a matter of no time, her condition worsens and the doctors ask Nanjiani to sign for her to me placed in a medically induced coma. The arrival of her parents, Beth and Terry, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, add an injection of awkwardness as Beth is not in a forgiving mood for Nanjiani breaking her daughter’s heart and things are clearly strained between Beth and Terry. But Nanjiani refuses to abandon his support, eventually becoming a cushion for Beth and Terry and pillar of support. As Emily’s condition becoming worse and more determined, Nanjiani feels torn apart between not knowing if the woman he loves will survive and the burden to tell his family, on top of trying to make a break in comedy, with the odds not looking in his favour.

As an ‘Apatow’ movie, it’s on the lo-fi scale as one of lower budget films in his stable, but The Big Sick lives up well to its indie credentials as a simple film relying predominantly upon dialogue and boy does it do it well, as the Big Sick is potentially the funniest film this year and maybe even in Apatow’s catalogue. It is relentlessly funny, finding jokes in every nook and cranny, even when there doesn’t seem like there’s space to fit one in or the situation to sensitive to challenge the audience to give a good belly laugh. Ironically, this is also it’s biggest criticism, when some scenes probably call for dramatic pause to allow the depth of emotion the situation should naturally call for, a joke is inserted that lightens the mood. As romantic leads, Nanjiani is decently charming almost consistently effortlessly cool, which gets in the way of showing signs of early emotional fragility, but does bring it when it matters. Kazan is more or less a natural as the intellectual, witty and cute lead for the audience to fall in love with, but the aloofness in her character somewhat suggests there was some underlying issue bar the illness that never came to fruition. These are perhaps uber criticisms and the supporting characters are near superb, particularly Naveed, Kumail’s brother, played by Four Lions Adeel Akhtar. The film could be trimmed, it takes a bit long for the drama to hit, along with some scenes that don’t add much to the plot. The Big Sick is a stonking debut from Kumail Najiani and Emily V. Gordon, which this film should convince those to invest more into them for future endeavours. Hopefully the reviews will surpass the poor marketing of the film, that have tried to make the film appear as a generic romantic comedy and cheap gag fest for the masses, when this film is so much more.

★★★★

Chris Aitken