Fans of HBO’s Silicon Valley won’t want to miss Kumail Nanjiani’s performance in The Big Sick, a romantic comedy based on his real life relationship with Emily V. Gordon. If you’re not familiar with Kumail’s portrayal of computer geek Dinesh Chugtai, then that’s even more reason to see the film. Gordon, now Kumail’s wife, shares writing credit with her husband and is played in the film by the elfin Zoe Kazan.
Coming from a strict Pakistani family, Kumail is expected, like his brother, Naveed (Adeel Aktar), to agree to an arranged marriage. Each dinner with his parents finds a young Pakistani woman dropping in “unexpectedly.” Kumail’s mother, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) is a force, relentless in her efforts to manage her son’s life. Kumail’s father, Azmat (Anupam Kher), is less aggressive, but goes along with his wife’s plan. When Kumail falls in love with Emily, he knows that he risks being cut off from his family.
Holly Hunter and Ray Romano
Kumail is already on thin ice with his parents, having defied their wishes that he become a doctor. Instead, he struggles to make it as a stand up comic, working the clubs at night, and driving an Uber during the day. He meets Emily in the club after one of his sets and, despite their cultural differences, the attraction is immediate. Emily wants him to meet her parents, but Kumail resists the idea that she should meet his. Emily discovers a wooden box where he has been tossing photographs of all those Pakistani women he’s met, and she understands that their relationship has little chance to succeed. A tearful breakup follows, Kumail torn between the woman he loves and the family he doesn’t want to lose.
When Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail goes to the hospital to see her. The doctors need someone’s signature in order to place Emily in a medically-induced coma while they figure out how to treat the infection that is ravaging her body. Without her parents there, Kumail signs as her husband.
Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, soon show up – terrific performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Beth knows about the breakup and both she and Terry are initially rude to Kumail. He’s relentless, however, showing up day after day to sit at Emily’s bedside. Soon the trio begins to bond. Attending one of Kumail’s routines at the club, Beth mixes it up with a patron who heckles Kumail because he’s a Muslim.
After Emily wakes up, however, the young woman tells Kumail she never wants to see him again. He makes several attempts to change her mind, to no avail. Of course we know, that they will ultimately get together. How and where is the key.
Produced by Judd Apatow and directed by one of Kumail’s longtime friends, Michael Showalter, The Big Sick (despite that unfortunate title), is a very funny, warm-hearted film, one that should do well with audiences looking for an alternative to those disaster and superhero films that dominate screens during the summer months. Kumail’s talents as a comic, his delivery and timing, are no surprise to those who watch Silicon Valley. Kumail is part of an ensemble on that show. Here he breaks out as a solo performer, particularly when doing his standup act. His fellow comics, played by SNL’s Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunohler, deliver humorous standup routines. But it’s the angst each displays off stage that underlines the difficulties of what it takes to make it in a crowded field.
Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan, lights up the screen as Emily. She can deliver a funny line as cleverly as Kumail. If the real life Emily is as charming and witty as portrayed here by Zoe (and since Emily co-wrote the script, we assume she is), then it’s easy to see how these two culturally different but comically similar people fell in love.
The Big Sick opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 23, nationwide on July 14, 2017.
Photos by Nicole Rivelli courtesy of Amazon Films.