This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Big Sick’ is the Best Romantic Comedy in Years

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter

Director: Michael Showalter

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Adults and Comedians Talking Like Adults and Comedians

Release Date: June 23, 2017 (Limited)/Expands July 14, 2017

The Big Sick follows the classic rom-com template in a lot of ways despite not  resembling any other entry in the genre in any obvious fashion. But if you look close enough, that formula is there. There’s a meet-cute, a dramatic misunderstanding, and a climactic reunion. It is usually that middle portion when lesser rom-coms start to become annoying or even offensive, but when the miscommunications happen because one half of the central couple is in a coma, the struggles along the way to that happy ending become a lot more understandable.

Based on the real-life courtship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who plays a fictionalized version of himself) and his co-writer/now-wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is an astute portrayal of culture clash, modern romance tics, and the workaday stand-up comedy lifestyle. Kumail hits it off with Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she kinda, sorta heckles him, they go back to his place so that they can hook up and he can show her some cool obscure genre flicks like The Abominable Dr. Phibes (she teasingly takes him to task for testing her pop culture tastes). Soon enough they are basically inseparable. Alas, Kumail has been keeping Emily a secret from his parents because he comes from a traditional Pakistani family that practices arranged marriage, so any future with her comes with a risk of being ostracized. This would all be enough conflict on its own, but on top of that, just after they break, Emily succumbs to a mysterious illness that leads to doctors placing her in a medically induced coma.

Classic rom-com humor tends to spring from witticisms and oddball characterizations, but The Big Sick’s most hilarious elements come from its knack for outrageous joke-telling. This is called playing to your strengths. Nanjiani is one of the most top-tier funnymen around today, and the rest of the film’s core stand-up crew are played by some reliable comedic heavy hitters (Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham). The Big Sick wins you over because it goes broad and plentiful with its emotions. Every moment of worry over Emily’s health is counteracted with a big guffaw.

Nanjiani and company further distinguish themselves within the rom-com mold in how the make-up and reunion portion plays out. Kumail and Emily find themselves back to each other thanks mostly to the work he puts in with her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter). Romano brings the soulful gravitas he has made his specialty in his dramatic roles, but his comic chops are just as sharp as the young guns around him, and Hunter is the same spitfire we have loved for so long (her confrontation of a racist heckler is one of the film’s best scenes). While Kazan is unconscious for much of the narrative, she does not get shortchanged in the deal (SPOILER ALERT that is kind of given away by one of the film’s co-writers being alive), as she and Kumail still have to hash everything out once she is awake, which justifies the fairly lengthy running time (right around 2 hours). Ultimately, you can feel that every element of the story is in the right place; surely some elements were fictionalized, but the emotional truth is always full-to-bursting.

The Big Sick is Recommended If You Like: Knocked Up, Master of None, Ruby Sparks

Grade: 5 out of 5 Drop Ins

What Won TV? – February 26-March 4, 2017

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In this feature, I look back at each day of the past week and determine what shows “won TV” for the night. That is, I consider every episode of television I watched that aired on a particular day and declare which was the best.

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Sunday – An unforgettable Oscars ceremony
Monday – Jane the Virgin
Tuesday – New Girl
Wednesday – Legion
Thursday – Baskets
Friday – Kurt Braunohler: Trust Me
Saturday – Octavia Spencer put poo in the SNL!