Lionsgate 119 minutes R
This is a movie about a Pakistani-American stand-up comic who falls in love with a girl in a coma. Parents on both sides object. Is that funny? Yes, it's hilarious, but more heartwarming and intense than we expected. It's charming and a true story to boot!
This is about the courtship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his real wife Emily V. Gordon. Emily was a couples and family therapist who became a TV writer. She's now working on The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and other shows. The couple collaborated on this script which is so much more than a rom-com. Kumail says Producer Judd Apatow was also involved in casting and helped make what was messy in the story more real.
Kumail says this film can’t easily fit into any mold because it’s a story that only he and his wife, Emily, can tell. They admit learning even more about each other as a couple writing this feature film and it shows in the finished product. We enjoyed watching the Kumail play himself and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) is cute and engaging as Emily. Although Kazan says that any time there was a scene for the couple making out, Kumail asked his wife to leave the set. He didn’t want her to have to watch him.
The opening montage of Chicago landmarks is a pleasant introduction to the city, but the movie is shot almost entirely inside comedy clubs, apartments and hospitals. Almost like a drawing room comedy. This film is about people, not effects or artsy camera angles.
Dir Kumail gives a low-key, but honest and hilarious performance.
Kazan as Emily, is a grad student at the University of Chicago which is the setting. She is sharp, smart and free. When Emily goes with friends to a Comedy Club, she heckles Kumail, which turns into a date. The date blossoms into a full-blown relationship which Kumail keeps secret from his Muslim parents. Their only demand from their son is to marry a Pakistani woman and the scenes of them trying to set him up with prospect after prospect is well shot and very funny.
The emotion comes out when Emily contracts a life-threatening illness and is put into a medically induced coma. Kumail, who had been out of her life, falls even more in love with her as he is drawn back to her hospital room where he encounters her parents played by Academy award winner, Holly Hunter and TV’s Ray Romano. They are as unlikely couple as Kumail and Emily. Ray Romano’s Terry is the epitome of Dad humor. He can’t tell a joke to save his life, which makes him even funnier. Holly Hunter’s Beth is searingly intense as she protects and projects love for her daughter.
Zoe Kazan had to spend a portion of her time on camera just lying in a bed with her eyes closed a.k.a. in a coma. She would hide a book under her pillow to have something to read between takes while hooked up to all the actual medical monitoring equipment. At times she says she actually fell asleep laying there and ruined a few takes by waking up while the cameras were rolling!
Emily’s parents have serious challenges to their own uncomfortable relationship which are monumentally painful to watch, but they unite to fight to save their daughter. One of the biggest surprises is just how intense and real these family interactions come across, especially with Kumail’s family dynamic. He admits that even today his relationship with his parents is still a work in progress. But that didn't keep Kumail from confronting, head on, the issues of identity and religion and how messy it can be when it gets in the way of people connecting. That’s just one reason why this is so much more than a simple comedy.
The real Emily pointed out in a recent interview that this movie also shows something rarely seen. She and Kumail take us behind the scenes of a comedy club to show us the real-life relationships and interaction of the comics backstage. It’s eye-opening to see the club as a workplace observing comics engaging in banter as we do with co-workers. Some of it is funny, but sometimes a bit snarky, like any job.
For a little movie, The Big Sick is a huge achievement and it isn’t sick at all. It’s quite well.