Director: Michael Showalter
Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar
Running Time: 120 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Whilst the usual array of super hero movies, sequels and glossy CG animations vied for the top spot of this summer’s box office, The Big Sick, a low budget indie-comedy, snuck under the radar and, bolstered by some near-unanimous praise from critics, ended up the sleeper hit of the season. OK, so it didn’t end up troubling the fore-mentioned heavy hitters in the top 10, but it did incredibly well for a film that only cost $5 million and featured no bankable stars (unless you count Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). It didn’t get a huge release here in the UK, so I was pleased to get the chance to review a screener of the film recently.
The Big Sick is based on the actual relationship between the film’s star Kumail Nanjiani and his co-writer Emily V. Gordon (played in the film by Elia Kazan’s granddaughter, Zoe Kazan). In the film, the two meet at one of Kumail’s stand-up performances and become close before Emily discovers Kumail has been hiding secrets about his family’s attempts to arrange a marriage for him and their inability to accept a non-Muslim wife. This prompts the two to break up, but a little while later, Kumail receives a phone call to say that Emily has been admitted to hospital and he should go to make sure she’s OK. She’s not OK though and he’s forced to pretend he’s her husband so he can sign for her to be put in a medically-induced coma.
Whilst Emily’s in the coma, Kumail feels duty bound to be with her and meets Emily’s parents, who are quite receptive to him at first as they know about the couple’s issues. The three eventually grow closer together, but Kumail still has to face up to his own parents and their wishes for his future, and the question of what will happen if Emily wakes up forever looms overhead.
Being produced by Judd Apatow, The Big Sick has a similar laid back mixture of comedy and drama to his films like Knocked Up and Funny People. Like those, it’s longer than most traditional rom-coms, but feels much more believable. It helps of course that the film is based on the actual experiences of its writers and star, but a fine job is still done of keeping dialogue funny but natural and the more leisurely pace means it doesn’t feel like elements are being rushed over.
I did find the film felt a little cliched in chunks though. A number of the plot points, such as the not-quite girlfriend in a coma situation and the culture-clash romance, have been explored elsewhere and I could see where most of these were going, but there’s quite a lot going on in the film, so it never gets stuck in an uninspired situation for long. I felt like it was becoming a little middle-of-the-road in the first half perhaps, but on top of some new turns in the narrative, the writing becomes more mature and nuanced than most films with similar themes. I also didn’t write many notes whilst watching, which is often a sign that I got too tied up in the film to worry about my review.
The characters are largely well rounded too, although it bothered me a bit that Kumail’s family were more closed-minded than Emily’s so felt less developed through the film. There are also some great performances backing up these characters, with Holly Hunter and Ray Romano standing out in particular as Emily’s parents. Four Lions‘ Adeel Akhtar is very funny too as Kumail’s brother Naveed.
Speaking of being funny, The Big Sick succeeds admirably in the comedy stakes. It’s rarely laugh out loud hilarious, but constantly witty and amusing, without detracting from the drama that drives the narrative. There’s a refreshing lack of bad taste gags too, adding to the film’s maturity, although there is one tastefully handled and actually kind of sweet scene that involves needing to go for a ‘number 2’. The drama is also very effective, with the initial romance of the couple delicately handled and sweet without getting sickly and some of the later scenes proving particularly poignant without feeling sentimental.
So ultimately, although The Big Sick is steadily paced and a little predictable perhaps, it remains an easy recommendation as it’s funny, moving and immensely likeable without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard to achieve this.
The Big Sick is out now on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by Studiocanal. I saw the Blu-Ray version and the film looks and sounds great.
There are a handful of special features included too. These include:
– A Personal Journey: The Making of The Big Sick: Go on a journey with the cast and crew as they discuss how this incredible autobiographical story got pitched, developed and ultimately made into the heart-warming, comedic gem it is today.
– The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs: Bonus footage from The Big Sick Comedy Tour featuring hilarious stand-up performances, Q&As and backstage moments.
– The Big Sick: The Other Stuff: Featuring the jokes that didn’t quite make it to the final cut.
– 2017 SXSW Film Festival Panel: Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon and producers Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel answer audience questions after a screening at the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin.
– Cast & Filmmaker Commentary: Feature length audio commentary with Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, Barry Mendel and Director Michael Showalter.
– Deleted Scenes
I haven’t had chance to watch all of these yet, but clearly a lot of effort has been put in to let viewers discover more about the film and its inception.