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The Big Sick – Film Review

The Big Sick – Film Review by Frank L.

Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Stars: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter

The script was written by Kumail Nanjian and Emily V. Gordon, who in real life are married, and it is based loosely on their lives. Nanjian plays his namesake Kumail, who is a son of Pakistani immigrants, living in Chicago who have made it and live in a nice, comfortable suburb. They have another son happily married to a Pakistani girl in a marriage arranged by the parents. Kumail is, of all unlikely things, a stand-up comic (not yet successful) and drives a taxi to pay his rent. He does not fit the parents’ ideal but he is a dutiful enough son. He attends regularly on Sunday evenings a family supper at which his brother and Pakistani sister- in-law are always in attendance. Invariably at this little gathering, the doorbell rings. The mother, Sharmeen, (Zenobia Shroff) feigns surprise and lo and behold there unexpectedly drops in a different, single Pakistani girl about whom Kumail has no interest. During one of his stand-up comedy nights he meets Emily (Zoe Kuman) and they date. Two very different cultures collide. There is friction.

Emily then contracts an illness, the initial symptoms of which were relatively mundane but it is serious. This brings her parents into the mix; Beth (Holly Hunter) and her husband Terry (Ray Romano). The cultural collisions get slowly more obvious, intensified by the drama of the illness.

Nanjian is a natural comic and delivers one liners with a dead pan, understated elan. He is the sophisticate even if an outsider in this American society. As a distraught mother of a seriously ill daughter, Hunter has a part in which she can let her ability rip and she does just that. Perhaps the hospital sequence is overly long but it does allow Hunter show off her considerable talents. Kuman has a challenging role given she has to move, as Emily, from a normal healthy young twenty something year old to someone that is life threateningly ill. She is feisty and Kumail has certainly found an object for his love who is no easy push over. Terry’s role is as Beth’s outwitted husband, rather than Emily’s Dad, who has an infinite ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Romano carries it off it skilfully. The four of them combine to make the various scrapes ring true and funny. The only part of the plot that is stereotypical are the two-dimensional Pakistani girls, Sharmeen’s potential brides for Kumail. Brides of arranged marriages need perhaps a screen society to protect them from stereotypical portrayal.

This is a film that makes smiles cross the lips. Humour is a great means of debunking myths. Nanjian and Gordon with their clever and funny script, thoughtfully directed by Showalter, do just that and in the process brighten up the world with this uplifting film.


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