The Big Sick




One of the few romcoms to have been suggested by real-life events.

Big Sick, The

Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan


Given that Apatow Productions is one of the film companies involved here, the title might suggest a gross-out comedy, but that is not what is on offer. Inappropriate as the title seems, The Big Sick is a romcom and a film that gained a buzz when a rapturous reception at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival led to a bidding war for the right to distribute it. That acclaim is far removed from my own response suggesting that, as can easily be the case with comedy, reactions are very much a matter of personal taste.


Set in Chicago, The Big Sick is all about the romantic relationship between Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a Pakistani settled in America and trying to build a career as a stand-up comic, and Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American girl training to be a therapist. If I say that the problem for me is that the dialogue never makes us feel that the story is taking place in the real world, that may sound the most inappropriate of comments for the genre of the romcom rarely embraces naturalism. But in this case there are many reasons why we need to believe in the story that is unfolding.


First, there is the fact that, however elaborated, The Big Sick is based on real events - its plot derives directly from the actual experiences of Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, who together wrote the screenplay. Secondly, such issues as arranged marriages in the Muslim community and the problems that can come with inter-racial relationships are crucial to the film's middle phase (the movie follows the genre template of boy meets girl, boy temporarily loses girl, boy regains girl). Thirdly, despite the comic element, The Big Sick puts one of its characters into a medically-induced coma when serious illness threatens. Embracing sentimentality, the film plays at times like a weepie, but any film that essays elements of tragi-comedy needs to be less artificial than this one is.


Nanjiani worked with the film's director, Michael Showalter, in 2015 and is known for supporting roles in films and for appearances on television. But his writing contribution and the personal nature of the material suggest that this is his bid for the big time. However, he is also known as a stand-up comedian and I feel that his talents may be better suited to that sphere: his passable performance here lacks the star appeal of a natural leading actor. Along with Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents, that engaging actress Zoe Kazan suffers from the weaknesses in the writing. Indeed, her presence here prompts thoughts of an undervalued romcom of 2013, What If. In that she appeared alongside Daniel Radcliffe and the two of them supplied an object lesson in how to play romcom by adding to the predominant artificiality carefully nuanced moments of real feeling. Nanjiani has not taken that example on board, but the success of the film at Sundance suggest that some will embrace his film anyway.




Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aldy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, Velia Lovell.


Dir Michael Showalter, Pro Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel, Screenplay Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, Ph Brian Burgoyne, Pro Des Brandon Tonner-Connolly, Ed Robert Nassau, Music Michael Andrews, Costumes Sarah Mae Burton.


FilmNation Entertainment/Apatow Productions/Story Ink-StudioCanal.
119 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 28 July 2017. Cert. 15.