The critical darling of last winter’s Sundance film fest, The Big Sick, has finally arrived and I’m pleased to report that it lives up to any and all expectations. This is yet another wonderful example of a studio-Amazon Studios and Lionsgate in this instance-swimming against the glut of superhero and franchise film product littering multiplexes and opting to release a film that will appeal to those looking for something fresh in terms of movie options. The fact that it isn’t getting a wide release is a bit problematic. Still, it’s nice to see a film with characters/situations rooted in the real world getting a chance with a summer audience instead of having its release held back for a more prestigious slot during the fall awards season onslaught, when these types of things are usually released. It’s a strategy that, hopefully, will pay off and inspire other distributors to do the same.
The Big Sick works on many levels and the most obvious being a showcase for its star and co-writer, Kumail Nanjiani. Nanjiani, in real life, is a comic who’s been making waves for some time now but this film is likely to send his career into the stratosphere. His performance in the title role is indeed heartfelt and utterly believable.
Nanjiani has opted to grace the lead character with his own name, Kumail, which should answer any questions as to whether the film is one of an autobiographical nature. Kumail, as depicted in the film, is a young up and comer with a dream-to make people laugh. Presently he’s earning his keep by Ubering and participating in nightly improv shows in the hopes that he’ll be spotted by a talent scout. One particular night the aspiring comic finds himself being heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan), who’s stopped by to catch Kumail’s show. He connects with the girl after the show and they begin a tentative romance until she discovers that Kumail’s deeply devout Muslim parents have other plans where his love life is concerned.
Matters are further complicated when Emily becomes very ill and falls into a coma. Kumail finds himself tending to her and becoming involved and bonding with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, giving it their all in two wonderfully written parts) in one of the film’s best subplots.
One of the great takeaways from the film is the its depiction of the tug of war regarding family tradition and how it affects Kumail. In particular, the film handles the issue of religious conformity as expected by the parents in a refreshing way.
Kumail’s parents never stop to think that it’s enough that their belief system works for them and they can’t resist cramming it down the throats of those who feel differently, in this case, their own son. This, of course, can’t end well.
One could say that director Michael Showalter and his collaborators are trying to illustrate the simple truth that sometimes one doesn’t have to look outside the family to experience intolerance firsthand. Although a bit overlong, The Big Sick is a hugely satisfying experience in a—pardon the pun—big way.
Image: Kumail Nanjiani & Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick
In Hickory, The Big Sick opens Friday
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