The Big Sick movie director: Michael Showalter
The Big Sick movie cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar
The Big Sick movie rating: 3
The Big Sick is inspired by the real-life story of Pakistani-American stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his American wife Emily Gordon. Emily wrote this film, and the two main characters, a Pakistani-American and an American, are called Kumail and Emily. And yet, even as the East and West seem further apart than ever, rarely has real life played so blandly. Funnily yes, pleasantly definitely, but blandly.
It’s great The Big Sick got made at all — and to critical acclaim — but one can’t help but feel frustrated at the squandered opportunity.
The only ones who let their hair and defences truly down are Emily’s parents played by Hunter and a delightful Romano. They have real issues, real conflicts and real warmth and love, which shines through in the film’s moments of crisis. Kumail’s parents are played by Kher and Shroff, and good as they are, all that they get to do literally is sit around a dining table and discuss Kumail’s marriage. In fact, Kumail’s brother and sister-in-law, played by Akhtar and the very-welcome and very-missed Shenaz Treasurywala, insert much more life into their roles, despite being given just a cursory nod.
There are many moments where Kumail’s and Emily’s sharp writing shows through though, indicating why this was a story asking to be told, perhaps now more than ever. It is especially true in the effortless way their dating and courtship are handled, playing on none of the cliched awkwardness of an immigrant. Instead, the film is clever in realising that for both the girl and the boy, this is unfamiliar territory, and it’s a delight when they find common ground so easily. While Nanjiani struggles in the scenes requiring heavy lifting, Kazan is simply resplendent. Her quirky looks and miles-wide smile sweep away any apprehensions the audience may harbour for Emily and Kumail. When Emily calls what she feels for Kumail “overwhelming”, you want to believe her.
Kumail is apprehensive about his traditional parents getting to know about Emily. He is a struggling comic and an Uber driver by night, neither of which his parents can bring up in dinner conversations with fellow emigrants. Their only hope is to find a good Pakistani wife for him. That this alone is the result of Kumail and Emily’s sudden break-up jars. However, the film quickly finds its feet after this, even when entering the schmaltzy zone of Emily’s mysterious illness, landing her in a coma. This interlude is when Emily’s parents enter the picture, and develop a bond with Kumail, who is hanging around feeling guilty.
What follows plays out more like episodes from a sit-com, some better than the others and many inevitably seeming like add-ons. The highs are mildly highs, the lows never too low, the laughs keep coming, and it is heartening that Nanjiani and Gordon tackle the elephant in the room head-on. The best and brightest jokes in the film are about 9/11, terror, ISIS, and Pakistan. Kumail does an entire skit on Pakistan, taking on each of its obsessions, and while it is not meant to be funny, one suspects it wasn’t intended to be as unwitty as well.
And yet, does one have more of an insight on Pakistan, or Pakistanis in America? No.
Still, let’s welcome The Big Sick with open arms. If a film can still be made where a person spreads the prayer mat and then dances around it playing video games, where Anupam Kher can play a Pakistani dad, where one can say that he doesn’t know whether one believes or not in Allah, and where a mother can pack meat biryani for the road, all is well. Or can be.