The Big Sick Review

“The Big Sick,” starring Pakistani American actor Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Anupam Kher, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, and Zenobia Shroff, among others, has all the makings of a surefire hit. (photo provided)

Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel

Executive producers: Jeremy Kipp Walker, Glen Basner, Ben Browning, Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

Director: Michael Showalter

Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, Vella Lovell, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Jeremy Shamos, David Alan Grier, Shenaz Treasurywala, Linda Emond.

When was the last time you got all wrapped up into a romantic-comedy story and came out of the movie theater happy and with that warm-fuzzy feeling? Even though its title somewhat gives away the premise of the film, “The Big Sick” is a film to not just be watched but experienced, especially with a loved one.

Like Indian actor Anupam Kher told India-West: “It’s about cross-culture, about inspirational life, about believing in love, about parents.”

This film, a perfect mixture of hilarious and heartwarming moments, has “Silicon Valley’s” Pakistani American actor Kumail Nanjiani exploring his comedic career and a love life that he did not know he wanted.

You have seen immigrant actors play the stereotypical brown skin roles of food delivery guys, cable guys, terrorists, geeky engineers et al – Nanjiani has been there, done that – but a casting in which a Pakistani American comedian scores a romantic lead role in a Hollywood film is a rare phenomenon.

Another great thing about “The Big Sick,” which is already proving to be a huge hit, is that it doesn’t harp on cultural diversity or how Muslims are viewed differently within American society. Instead, it takes some subtle, nuanced digs at how they are almost always defined by their religion.

Sample this: During one of his comedy sets, a heckler yells at Kumail, “Go back to ISIS.” When someone objects – we won’t reveal who – Kumail’s response is: “That guy’s right. I am a terrorist. I just do standup comedy on the side, to keep a low profile.”

Despite Amazon Studios/Lionsgate giving the film a limited release, “The Big Sick,” which opened in select theaters June 23, is attracting much wider attention.

The film, which Nanjiani co-wrote and in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself, centers around his own experiences as a flailing standup comedian, who makes a side hustle income as an Uber driver, meeting and dating his future wife, Emily V. Gordon, who also wrote the script with him.

Zoe Kazan plays Nanjiani’s wife, Emily, a to-be therapist. The two meet at a club where Nanjiani is heckled by Emily during one of his acts. The sequence in which Emily says it was more like a cheer but Nanjinai explains to her that heckling is always negative, one can see the sparks flying between the two and what was supposed to be a one-night stand metamorphizes into something Nanjiani had never expected considering his traditional Muslim parents. The chemistry between the two make the original, which is not just a romantic comedy but also a humane family drama, very endearing.

Nanjiani, with his deadpan humor and raw persona, and Emily, as a quirky and full of life therapist-in-training, are extremely lovable characters, the kinds who leave a lasting impression on you.

Kumail, the protagonist, loves his parents but they are keen he marry a Muslim girl and as a result he hides the fact that he is dating a white woman from them. His mother, played by Zenobia Shroff, makes repeated attempts to set him up on dates with Pakistani women. The family’s dinner time conversations revolve around his career and marriage, resulting in copious amounts of laughs.

Anupam Kher as Kumail’s authoritative father lights up the screen with his spontaneous charisma. Kher had earlier told India-West that Nanjiani’s father had insisted that Kher play him on the big screen and the poignant father-son moments reaffirm that he was so right in his perception.

Indo-British actor Adeel Akhtar as Kumail’s brother and Shenaz Treasury as his sister-in-law deliver fine performances.

Kumail and Emily continue to date until she discovers headshots of “hot” Muslim girls in his room, which is just the beginning of troubles for Kumail. Things turn more complicated as Emily, with whom he recently broke up, is beset by an unexpected illness and put in a medically induced coma. From there on, Nanjiani struggles with his feelings, the situation that has arisen, and Emily’s fiercely protective parents.

It’s not without a reason that fans continue to watch reruns of Ray Romano’s “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Romano as Emily’s father and Oscar-winning actress Holly Hunter as her mother are perfectly cast and keep you invested in the film.

In spite of the tragedy that befalls the family and Nanjiani, the trio, through their finely textured performances, outset the heaviness that comes on screen with such scenarios.

As a film showcasing how a second-generation immigrant navigates his way in a foreign land, “The Big Sick” also highlights how kids get caught between conservative and modernist worlds. We see Kumail watching YouTube videos in a room where he is expected to be praying.

What can parents expect from their children and what do children owe their parents also feature prominently in the film, but every sequence is beautifully done and is mostly interspersed with a dash of humor.

With a perfect balance of comedy and emotion, this 120-minute-long film keeps you thoroughly engaged, entertained and surprisingly, also involved, as you wonder about their post-coma life while walking out of the theater.

This intrinsically beautiful film is a big step for Nanjiani and has the wherewithal to turn him into a bona fide star, and deservingly so.

Directed by Michael Showalter and produced by Judd Apatow, “The Big Sick” opens nationwide July 14.

Rating: ****1/2

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