The romantic comedy genre tends to come in for a lot of stick, and rightly so. With the occasional exception – the likes of Sleepless in Seattle, Man Up, Silver Linings Playbook, Splash, Annie Hall, My Best Friend’s Wedding, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, 500 Days of Summer, Jerry Maguire, Before Sunrise, 10 Things I Hate About You, Crazy Stupid Love, Roxanne, Manhattan, Groundhog Day – the average rom-com is neither terribly romantic nor all that funny. What a delight then when a rom-com as exceptional as The a Big Sick comes along and give this third genre a much need kick up the bum.
Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani ) is an aspiring stand-up comic living in Chicago who is an Uber driver in his spare time. One nigh he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), who heckles him during his set. They start dating, and things are going well until Emily finds a cigar box of Kumail's that is full of pictures of women. You see, his family are traditional Pakistani muslims and his mother keeps setting Kumail up with Pakistani women with the aim of an arranged marriage. When he tells Emily he is not sure if he can have a future with her, she ends the relationship.
Shortly after, Kumail learns that Emily is in hospital and needs to be placed in a coma as doctors try to figure out what caused a serious lung infection she has developed. He calls her parents in North Carolina, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), and as they spend time at the hospital over the next few weeks, the three form a bond.
The Big Sick's greatest strength is its sheer honesty. It's a very funny, moving and heartfelt film about about life, love and cultural differences. Kumail may have been raised as a traditional muslim, but we soon learn he is not that devout – when he heads down to the basement with his prayer mat while at his parents, instead of praying he simply plays on his phone. He goes along with his mother's attempts to arrange a marriage with a Pakistani girl simply to keep her happy, but he only has eyes for Emily. Kumail has been living in the US since he was a toddler, and as he asks his parents, what was the point of them moving to the US to live if they did not want to live there as Americans?
The film also has a cast working like a well-oiled machine, thanks mainly to a beautiful script from Nanjiani and his wife, EMily Gordon – on whom the character of Emily is based. Yes, this is a true story and the pair have bravely bared their souls and exposed their early days as a couple for all the world to see, and from it given us a film that it is impossible not to take to your heart and laugh and cry over. And believe me, you will do both.
Nanjiani has been on the scene for a while now, popping up in small (but often standout) roles in films such as The Five-Year Engagement, Sex Tape, Loaded and Central Intelligence - but he is best known for his role on the superb HBO comedy Silicon Valley. This is his first leading role, and it's one that should make him a star – he honestly deserves it. Kazan, too, should see her star on the ascent after her performance here as Emily (even though she spends half the film in a coma). And the chemistry between these two just sparkles. Right fro the word go, you completely believe their relationship as the characters move from the getting-to-know-you dance to the comfortable waltz of two people clearly in love (even though they keep telling themselves, and others, that they are not dating). And there's not much to be said about Hunter and Romano, except to say that Hunter is as wonderful as always, and this is a fine dramatic turn from Romano and one of the best performances we've seen from him in quite some time.
It's a Judd Apatow-produced film, so the only minor flaw in The Big Sick is perhaps its two-hour running time; it could do with a little tightening, particularly in the final act. But that's a very minor flaw in this superb comedy. Yes, it's very romantic and very funny – making it one of the best rom-coms in years – but it's also a wonderful and timely film about immigration and assimilating into a new culture. Kumail finds himself torn between his Pakistani traditions (which seem foreign to him as he was raised in the US) and his American identity, which is who he truly is. It's a warm, heartfelt and very smart film that you simply do not want to miss. Whatever it is that ails you, The Big Sick is the best possible medicine.