Susan Granger’s review of “The Big Sick” (Amazon Studios/Lionsgate)
With comic book adaptations and animation crowding the multiplexes, this surprisingly witty, sweet-natured romantic comedy is a welcome change.
Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, it relates how a struggling Pakistani/American comedian (Nanjiani) in Chicago connects with flirtatious grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan), as what they both thought was a one-night stand develops into a real relationship.
Kumail’s devoutly Muslim family expects him to enter into a traditional, arranged marriage with an eligible Pakistani woman. So he avoids telling them about his growing affection for Emily because he knows his parents would disown him if he married a Caucasian.
It’s the classic dilemma of a trying-to-assimilate, second-generation immigrant caught between two worlds, and Kumail’s cross-cultural deception leads to their eventual breakup.
But when Emily develops a mysterious infection and is placed in a medically induced coma, distraught Kumail rushes to the hospital and steadfastly stays by her side.
That’s where he meets her frazzled parents, Terry and Beth (Ray Romano, Holly Hunter), who are wary of Emily’s ex-boyfriend hovering around during their family vigil, particularly since they’re having their own marital issues.
Scripted by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (best known as the downtrodden computer programmer on HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) who pick the scabs off painful themes, it’s adroitly directed by Michael Showalter (“Hello, My Name is Doris”), showcasing Kumail’s sardonic comic timing.
What makes it extraordinary is the detailed delineation of each character, including Kumail’s family (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Shenaz Treasury) and his comedy club buddies (Bo Burnham, Jurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Big Sick” is an endearing 8. Kumail describes this crowd-pleasing date movie as “a romantic coma-dy.”