More noise than signal

The Big Sick

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Kumail Nanjiani plays more or less himself in this more or less true story from earlier in his career. He’s a jobbing stand-up comedian on the Chicago scene, looking for a big break when he meets and falls in love with Zoe Kazan’s grad-student Emily. However, between coming under pressure from his parents to follow the traditional arranged marriage route and the demands of his career, he fails to properly commit to the relationship and they break up.

Not long after this, he receives a phone call telling him that Emily has fallen seriously ill very suddenly, and he was the only contact they could get hold of, and that he needs to sign off on inducing Emily into a coma so the doctors can start poking and prodding and working out what on Earth’s gone wrong.

Not long after she goes under, her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) show up and dismiss Kumail, having heard the details of the messy breakup. Kumail doesn’t let himself go so easily, however, regretting breaking up and promising to do as much as he can for Emily. Which, let’s face it, isn’t a lot, but he can at least keep Terry and Beth company in this trying time, while also trying to keep his hopes of being invited to perform at the Montreal festival alive.

There was a first draft of this review in my head where I’d talk about how diversity is important in bringing us different stories to the screen, but on reflection that’s not entirely true in this instance. The bare bones plot, as related above, isn’t anything new at all, it’s essentially While You Were Sleeping and there’s probably earlier examples than ’95 if you went looking for them.

What is different in this film, and where the vast bulk of the comedy is mined, is from Nanjiani’s clash of cultures and perspectives as a second-generation immigrant, having to deal with American and Pakistani cultural differences and occasionally finding his positions halfway between or entirely against one or the other of them.

Which sounds altogether tedious when put in those terms, but The Big Sick) is solidly funny throughout, and has at least a couple of really funny bits (which I’m told are in the trailers, but it was ever thus, I suppose). There’s solid dramatic turns from Nanjiani, Hunter and (of all people) Romano, cast as the straight man to Nanjiani and doing a pretty good job of it.

The Rom part of this is handled well enough, but the Com part is, if not knocked out of the park, at least battered close to the home plate bleacher. I don’t really know baseball well enough to attempt to modify the phrase, really. Sorry. I’m just trying to say that I enjoyed it quite a lot and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s bases are loaded and belong to us make your time? Sorry. Look, I’m not familiar with the sport. The film’s good, but.