Tropic Sprockets / The Big Sick

By Ian Brockway

Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) takes a screenplay loosely based on the romance between the comedian Kumail Nanjiani and the psychologist Emily V. Gordon and has made a stunning, heartfelt and beautiful film about love and life that far surpasses the often constrictive bounds of the romantic comedy category.

This film isn’t conventional comedy per se, nor is it a straight romance. This is a film about spirit and real human emotions. In a genre of romantic comedy, often rife with cliches, this is the highest compliment I can give. The comedy comes not from jokes or one-liners but rather, from the interaction of personalities.

Najiani himself stars as Kumail, a struggling comic. One night, he is benignly heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan) a quirky psychologist. At first, Kumail is annoyed, but Emily assures him that she liked his act very much and she agrees to go home with him to watch a cult film.

The two get to kissing quickly. But Emily does not want the relationship, insisting that she has too much on her plate. Kumail reluctantly agrees.

When he goes to visit at his parents, he is pressured by his very conservative mom (Zenobia Shroff) to marry a Pakistani girl. She arranges a seemingly endless parade of girls to meet during every dinner.

Needless to say Kumail is not interested; things have intensified with Emily. Yet, he cannot voice his feelings for fear of ostracism.

Emily finds a box with photos of Kumail’s bridal candidates and she is understandably hurt. Kumail tries to explain, but he is defensive and blurts out that he can’t imagine a future with her.

A shocked Emily walks out.

The comic attempts to forget and hone his  comic art, yet he feels lost.

In most hands, such a story could veer into melodrama very rapidly, but Najiani and Kazan have so much of a shared energy, they both keep the film genuine and energized together. Drama, let alone a romantic one, is about sharing. The two actors definitely experience a real give and take, the elements necessary in bringing something meaningful to the screen.

Although the two main characters are comic, they are human and in no way cartoonish or exaggerated. As much as the film touches on the life of a comedian, the story, in many ways centers on artistic balance, the life of stand up and the struggle to find humor in serious and even religious issues. This is a film about worry, grief and anxiety, yet it is never heavy-handed, sentimental or overbearing.

Ray Romano as Emily’s father, has never been more authentic and Holly Hunter is perfect as the often obstinate but caring mother.

“The Big Sick” (with a title that perhaps hints upon the sickness of love as much as anything medical) will have you cheering not for corny jokes, star-cross’d lovers or impossible odds, but for the fact that these two people found each other and worked through a very personal odyssey, not apart, but emphatically together.

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