Based on its success at Sundance earlier this year, The Big Sick seems to be a feature which would help revive the rom-com. It was snatched up by Amazon Studios for $12 million, and its star and co-writer, Kumail Nanjiani, was poised to break big with his account of how he met his wife, Emily V. Gordon. What makes this film interesting is the story it, as the pair endured many highs and lows before finally getting married. Co-produced by comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow, The Big Sick is a comedy with heart, although in my opinion it plays more like a drama with laughs.

Directed by Michael Showalter, Sick is about Kumail (played by Nanjiani), a stand-up comedian who hooks up with Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she heckles him during one of his gigs. Their relationship is casual at first, but they spend a lot of time together and things become more serious. There is a roadblock to true happiness – Kumail is Pakistani and his parents, Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), are constantly setting their son up with potential suitors. Although Kumail doesn’t approve of arranged marriages he plays along to appease his parents, but Emily discovers a box full of pictures and information of the women he’s been set up with. Of course, an argument ensues upon which Emily breaks up with Kumail.

Over time, Kumail is back to his routine, performing his stand-up routines and one-man shows, and occasionally hooking up with an admirer or two. Emily re-enters his life when she becomes hospitalized and placed into a medically-induced coma. Soon Kumail is face-to-face with her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter). They, particularly Beth, disapprove of Kumail, mainly because Kumail wasn’t forthcoming to Emily during their relationship, and it makes no sense for he, an ex-boyfriend, to stay at the hospital waiting for her to wake up. But Kumail shows up again and again and eventually he wins over Terry and Beth. They get to know each other, Beth and Terry get to know each other again, and Kumail begins to realize truths about himself and his relationship with Emily, her parents, and his own family.

If anything, The Big Sick is genuine and heartfelt. I believe those qualities lend to the film being more of a romantic dramedy than a straight rom-com. In real life, Nanjiani and Gordon are still together, and together they wrote this script. Knowing that, the film’s conclusion is obvious, but they did well to incorporate plenty of doubt since there were points when Emily could’ve died. The humor is there but it’s of the dry variety rather than slapsticky. And Sick is full of endearing moments where Kumail bonds with Terry, then Beth, and finally with Azmat and Sharmeen. Most importantly, Kumail realizes things about himself which allow him to grow as a person and realize just how important Emily is to him.

Considering it’s the summer, The Big Sick is perfect counterprogramming. It’s quiet and sincere, has a good amount of humor, and is proof that love can overcome nearly any obstacle. It’s also timely due to its diversity (an Asian man and a white woman in love) and its acceptance of all things different (and even familiar). It’s likely the best rom-com since Knocked Up, and considering that that is also a Judd Apatow production (which Apatow also wrote and directed), you can see his influence all over The Big Sick. Personally, it runs a little long but that’s forgivable considering the truth and originality within it.

The Big Sick is a fantastic effort that’s entertaining, moving and enjoyable. There are a couple of aspects which are frustrating (Nanjiani and Gordon almost condemn Pakistani women because they are mistakenly identified as synonymous with arranged marriages and undesirability), but its bigger message (and a scene which serves to solidify Kumail’s change in perspective and outlook) helps to assuage that.

I look forward to seeing future projects from Nanjiani and Gordon. They display a good writing chemistry, although they wrote this script with their hearts more than anything else (that, though, definitely gives the film a more personal feel). Nanjiani snuck up on me since I don’t watch Silicon Valley (and many of his previous film roles have been small ones), but he’s a welcome “newcomer” whose ethnicity and background can help diversify Hollywood, something they sorely lack.

4 stars out of 5


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