Kumail Nanjiani is one of my favorite comedians of this decade. Whether it’s in the HBO hit television series Silicon Valley, his myriad of walk-on roles or just him doing stand-up comedy. With 2017’s The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani sets out to give moviegoers a wholly different experience: a heartfelt romantic comedy about what love, culture and dedication means in a society that seems to devalue these things.
Kumail plays himself as a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents (Anupam Kher & Zenobia Shroff respectively) will think of her. When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother (Holly Hunter) and father (Ray Romano).
Ever since I first saw this film via iTunes on September 11th (I promise it was a coincidence), I’ve been awfully conflicted about Kumail Nanjiani’s performance since he’s playing himself, just a few years ago. Having seen The Big Sick once with my mom when it came to Amazon Prime Video back in November and the most recent being through my Blu-Ray copy just three days ago, I’ve really come to accept his performance here. He does an excellent job at playing himself as a unsure of himself stand-up comedian. Zoe Kazan is given a lot to live up to here and she absolutely embodies Emily as much as humanly possible without actually becoming her Daniel Day Lewis style. As a couple, and while there’s this sense of disconnection that I think would naturally come from the uncertainty of playing a woman that’s very possibly coaching you through this performance, Kazan and Nanjiani are separately interesting enough that you eventually care about their relationship when it kicks into high gear. Weirdly enough, it’s not Kumail or Emily that really seem to be the stand outs in this film. That prize would have to go to Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher & Zenobia Shroff who play Emily and Kumail’s parents. They aren’t in the film near enough and that’s a shame because the parents are the heart of this film, through and through. The parents show what married life is actually like, both in Pakistan and America without the movie coming out and screaming it in your face.
A lot of the credit for the subtleties of The Big Sick have to do with director Michael Showalter. Even in scenes with dramatic overtones, there’s this sense of optimism and warmth in that same space. Under the direction of Showalter, every actor and actress gets their moments to shine. Particularly, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. With a duo like this, you can never lose. Romano is the best I’ve ever seen him as he has his own faults that better illustrate what it’s like to be there for your wife in her darkest hour. Hunter displays some rare acting prowess here as well as the mother of a daughter who can’t do anything but focus on getting her daughter back to her, no matter what that may mean.
As good as The Big Sick is, there are a number of flaws I found with it. The film tends to over extend its welcome. More specifically, the film lets you know when it switches to a different act of the film, particularly when Emily goes slips into a coma and moments that it realizes how long its been since you haven’t seen a character, leading to this feeling that when the film ends, you’re just left in this state of indifference. While that may seem damning, it’s actually minor nitpicks when I sit and think about it. Why else would I see it three times on three different media formats?
The Big Sick is the kind of film America needs right now. It’s one of a kind, hilarious and you will always find new, small things that you will come to appreciate every single time you watch it. Speaking of watching it, go watch it on Amazon Prime Video right now.