A smash hit at January’s Sundance Film Festival, and picked up there by Amazon and Lionsgate, comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s very personal story of his real-life relationship and journey with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon makes for a movie that should become a word-of-mouth winner this season for adult audiences looking for smart, entertaining and very human entertainment. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), playing himself in his own story turns out to be perfect casting for this very funny Pakistan-born stand-up comic who also co-stars on HBO’s Silicon Valley. But telling his own tale with the help of his co-writer wife Gordon is a much bigger leap that could have gone off the rails, but it never does and brilliantly stays real all the way.
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The first part of the film chronicles their meeting and dating as well as showing the pitfalls of a cross -cultural romance since his family, especially his mother (Zenobia Shroff), is determined to have him succumb to Pakistani tradition and an arranged marriage to a nice girl also from the home country. To this end, there are some very funny scenes in which a number of prospective “catches” just happen to be in the neighborhood to drop by family dinners. Kumail, however, keeps his relationship with the very American Emily a complete secret from the family, quite the opposite of what she says about him to her parents, played with perfect comic timing by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Soon this becomes a big problem for her when she gets Kumail to admit that he has never even mentioned her to his family, and she breaks it off.
Shockingly, a mysterious infection lands her in the hospital and into an induced coma. This changes things drastically for the distraught Kumail, who informs her parents and ends up in a most unusual relationship with them while their daughter lies in a bed unaware of any of this. The scenes between him and Hunter and Romano are priceless and cross many aspects including the barriers imposed by his Muslim religion and their own trepidation about this guy who they know far more about than his parents know about Emily.
As the film progresses, all of this conflict builds into a first-rate human comedy that explores a very complicated romance. Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) directs and keeps the whole delicate soufflé from falling into stereotypes, capturing the tricky turns from high comedy to intense dramatic scenes with great skill. Weaved in and out are some of Nanjiani’s stand-up routines and scenes of his camaraderie with fellow comedians who also act as shoulders to cry on. The casting could not be better down the line starting with Nanjiani, who proves he can handle a demanding leading role, even if he is playing himself. Zoe Kazan is excellent as Emily, while Romano and especially Hunter steal every scene they are in. Shroff is superb as Kumail’s unbending mother, while Indian superstar Anupam Kher is just terrific as his understanding father. Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel produced. Lionsgate releases the Amazon pickup Friday in a planned slow rollout throughout the summer.
Do you plan to see The Big Sick? Let us know what you think.
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