The Big Sick is a pleasing combination of a romantic comedy that feels one part wholly original as it comes from the real life experiences of stand-up Kumail Nanjiani, essentially playing himself. The other part is not without imperfections and that could be called the Judd Apatow part, who produced it. Like Apatow’s best work, there’s plenty of heart, laughs, and observations about the comedy scene. Like even in his best work (and certainly his most middling pictures), it’s a bit too long and occasionally veers into semi-stale territory.
That said, Nanjiani’s creation takes you out of typical genre territory for most of its two-hour running time. Sick was written by its star and wife Emily V. Gordon and it takes a page out of their true life experiences. Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani portrays Pakistani comic Kumail Nanjiani, who’s struggling to make ends meet doing night gigs in Chicago while also driving an Uber. One night he’s pleasantly heckled on stage by Emily (Zoe Kazan) and the two hit it off post show. A one-night stand that transpires over several nights occurs – in the sense that they keep saying it’s the last one-night stand. She’s busy in grad school, he’s doing his career thing. Before they know it, they realize they’re in some sort of feeling resembling love yet they dare not say it.
Kumail can’t tell his family of his new whatever he and Emily call it. His background demands that he enter an arranged marriage with a girl of Pakistani ethnicity and his parents (especially Mom) bring a slew of such women to the dinner table every time Kumail comes to dinner. It’s this complication that soon ends the relationship.
The title comes into play when Emily is rushed to the hospital and put into a medically induced coma. Kumail is informed and he soon meets Emily’s folks (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). Their knowledge of their daughter’s former relationship is the opposite of Kumail’s parents. They know everything and aren’t exactly warm to the idea of Kumail hanging around the ICU.
The Big Sick, more often than not, avoids many typical rom com cliches. Some of this is due to one of the leads not being available for a solid portion of the proceedings. This allows Kumail and Emily’s parents to develop a fascinating dynamic. Veteran performers Hunter and Romano make the best of their parts and their marriage is an interesting one in itself. The screenplay is refreshingly honest in a way that few in the genre manage to be. Kumail is far from perfect in how he handles situations, but not in an overly broad silly way. He’s trying and it’s not easy to balance his cultural leanings and his feelings for Emily. Kazan is charming and vulnerable as Emily, as she slowly realizes the difficulties involved with dating Kumail.
We get a little bit of exploring the stand-up comedy scene as Kumail is trying to land a sought after spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival. There’s nothing terribly new about that aspect of the script (Apatow covered it well in Funny People), but Nanjiani is certainly familiar with it. And that’s what really puts The Big Sick in satisfying territory. Nanjiani and his spouse write what they know – each other. And you root for them to work it all out.
*** (out of four)