THE BIG SICK
Director: Michael Showalter
Screenwriters: Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Runtime: 120 mins.
Australian release date: 3 August 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, Bondi Junction, Sydney, on 26 July 2017.
Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick is based on the real-life story of its writers; it’s a cross-cultural romance between a Pakistani Moslem man and a blonde all-American woman, which might have seemed a bit of a risky idea at pitching sessions given the anti-Islamic feeling extant in the USA in recent years. It must have been a real feat to get this movie up but they obviously did something right because, as it turns out, they got producer-extraordinaire Judd Apatow involved. The result is a rom-com that stands out from the pack.
Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is an Uber driver by day and a stand-up comic by night. His traditional-minded family wants him to become a doctor but he tells them he plans to follow a law career instead, which is their second choice, so that’s okay! His mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) keeps inviting young, single Pakistani women who just “happen to be in the neighbourhood” (but arrive with a photo and a CV) to join the family for dinner, in the hope that her son will take a shine to one of them. Sharmeen is supported by husband Azmat (the veteran Bollywood star Anupam Kher) in this quest to get Kumail to do the right thing.
Kumail’s brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) has already found a Pakistani wife and you get the impression that he agrees with his mum’s match-making endeavours. Meanwhile, Kumail has fallen for a feisty young woman Emily (Zoe Kazan) who “woo-hooed” him during a performance but he can’t bring himself to reveal this fact to his parents. When Zoe ends up in a coma her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) arrive from interstate to keep an anxious vigil by her bedside, and sparks fly because they’ve heard all about Kumail, and what they know they don’t like.
Nanjiani is well-known in the States from his frequent appearances on late-night TV and his various roles in series like Portlandia. He co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Emily V. Gordon, who really did spend eight days in an induced coma. The couple shares a wonderfully dry sense of humour which is a delight. Zoe Kazan is perfect as the love interest and bears quite a resemblance to Gordon, as revealed at a Q&A after the preview in Sydney. The rest of the cast are pitch-perfect too and the dialogue between Holly Hunter, Ray Romero and Kumail is terrific, as are the conversations around the Nanjiani family dinner table. Listen out for a very bold joke about 9/11 in a chat between Romano and Nanjiani. The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival due to its self-effacing, endearing qualities. It’s not high art but it is thoroughly entertaining and a real feel-good movie. The Big Sick is a funny surprise.