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Review: The Big Sick – “Honest and charming”

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Romantic comedies used to be a dime a dozen, formulaic, boy meets girl cinema.  You never had to think too hard, you were assured a happy ending, but they were all predictable.  However, in recent years the genre has suffered from its repetition, with fewer of these films making their way to the big screen, creating additional room for more superheroes, more sequels.  So it’s reassuring to not only get a break from the big bombastic blockbusters of summer, but also to get a return to the rom-com genre that feels fresh and original.  But The Big Sick, isn’t just a quality comedy, it may just be one of the best films of the year so far.

Based on the true life love story, The Big Sick follows Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan), who meet one night after he finishes a set on stage at a comedy club.  Though they hit it off, they agree it’s not the right time for them to date, and they go their separate ways (or rather he drives her home in his Uber vehicle).  However, they can’t seem to stop contacting one another and soon they’re spending all their free time together – her studying psychology in grad school, Kumail writing new bits for his stand up in his dream to hit it big.

What Emily doesn’t realize, is that Kumail’s family knows nothing about her, and his mother insists on setting him up with a new girl every week in the hopes of arranging his marriage as would be customary in the Pakistani culture.  Kumail routinely puts every girl’s picture in a cigar box, rejecting each in turn.  When Emily finds this box and discovers that their cultural differences likely preclude a future together, they break up.

It isn’t long after that Kumail gets a call from one of Emily’s friends that she is ill and in hospital, eventually landing in a coma.  Suddenly Kumail is thrown back in Emily’s life in a big way, even meeting her parents, Terry and Beth, (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) in the most extenuating of circumstances.

The Big Sick, while a romantic comedy, is one where its female lead is absent for the vast majority of the film – an already interesting way for a love story to happen on or off screen.  But this isn’t just about Kumail’s relationship with Emily, but also the one that he forms with Beth and Terry.  How many romances deal with the parents growing to love and admire the perspective suitor? Their shared concern for Emily manages to connect them in a hugely emotional way.

Romano and Hunter are perfectly cast here, portraying their understandable parental worry while still bringing warmth to their characters.  If you don’t get a little misty eyed at the scene with Nanjiani and Hunter in the hospital close to the end, you simply don’t have a soul.  The three actors have winning chemistry, whether it’s in the awkward beginnings of their meeting, or in the sincere honesty shared as their relationship develops.

I can’t imagine how awkward it must be to portray yourself in the story of how you and your (spoiler alert!) now wife met, but Kumail Nanjiani manages to seem comfortable in his leading role here.  The fact that he wrote the absolutely impeccable script with Emily V. Gordon (the real-life Emily) may have helped, but Nanjiani is deserving of praise in his ability to be charming and witty while bringing true emotional depth to the screen.

Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris) had stellar material to work from here in creating the finished project.  However, he was able to pace the film well and at a full 120 minute run time it never feels too long (keep in mind this is an Apatow produced project!).  Falling in love with Kumail and Emily (as well as her parents) is pretty easy, and they do leave you wanting more – the perfect way to end the film.

It’s pretty easy to see why everyone is talking about this film.  The Big Sick is, quite frankly, refreshing.  It is honest and charming and at the same time demonstrates that there are areas of the rom-com genre that are still original when you aren’t afraid to explore them.  It isn’t just the depiction of cultural differences which feels unique, though these are historically underrepresented on the big screen, but also the portrayal of how we deal with illness and family that provides this film with its huge heart.  I can’t help but thank Nanjiani and Gordon for bringing their story to life and managing to do so in such an endearing way.

The Big Sick opens in the UK on 28th July 2017.

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