Film Review – ‘The Big Sick’ (2017)

The Big Sick’ is a comedy drama based on a true story. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani gets to know his girlfriend’s parents whilst she is in a coma. Emily (portrayed on film by Zoe Kazan) starts dating Kumail but doesn’t initially find out about the traditional arranged marriage expectations still prevalent in his family.

The film is written by Nanjiani and his real-life partner Emily V Gordon. It is directed by Michael Showalter – who wrote indie parody ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ and several sequels in the form of feature films and televisions series. Whilst those films don’t heavily depend on a narrative arc, and the TV series are more obviously episodic, it is clear that ‘The Big Sick’ has to be made in a different way.

The narrative here is fairly typical of a romantic comedy or comedy drama. It is perhaps too focussed on providing a nice rounded conclusion, rather than further investigation of the character’s emotions. It is easy to leave the film thinking that too much emphasis is placed on a sense of closure, when actually it may have been more interesting to simply show fewer moments in Kumail’s experience and really flesh those ideas out some more. Having said that, it seems to do a better job than the scene-by-scene nature of ‘Wet Hot American Summer’.

The film is very funny, even hilarious in part. Both Showalter and Nanjiani are stand-up comedians, so it is no surprise that the scenes in the comedy club – both backstage and front of the house – are naturalistic and believable. Some of the funniest lines in the film come from the dialogue between comedians. Again this is made more real by the presence of reallife stand-ups – the hugely successful Bo Burnham, SNL cast member Aidy Bryant, and Comedy Central host Kurt Braunohler.

Nanjiani and Kazan bounce off each other in the leads. The rest of the supporting actors are well cast, with some great performances. The mega famous Bollywood actor and star of over five hundred productions Anupam Kher is Kumail’s father Azmat. Adeel Akhtar, best known from his role in Channel 4’s ‘Utopia’, delivers sarcastic wit as brother Naveed.

The subject matter (romantic interest in a coma) doesn’t have any obvious tendency towards comedy or farce. The humour here is mostly derived from culture clash tropes, most of which are given away in the trailer. The fact that many of the cast and crew have backgrounds in stand-up leads to some really funny riffs on the self-deprecating comedian. I would’ve liked more of this kind of thing. A “comedy about the process of writing comedy” angle was clearly beginning to work out. Instead, there are some rom-com staples in the plot that drive towards an all too obvious ending.

The Big Sick is released via digital download on 17th November 2017, and then DVD and Blu-ray on 20th November.

Zach Roddis | [rating=3]

Comedy, Romance | USA, 2017 | 15 | 20th November 2017(UK) |Studiocanal UK | Dir.Michael Showalter | Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher

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