The Big Sick of­fers real look at love, life

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - RICK BENT­LEY

The rule of thumb to any­one try­ing to com­pose a script, novel or even orig­i­nal tweet is to write what you know. Proof of how well that ad­vice works can be found in “The Big Sick,” the story penned by Ku­mail Nan­jiani (“Sil­i­con Val­ley”) and his wife Emily V. Gor­don (“The Melt­down with Jonah and Ku­mail”) based on their real-life courtship.

It must have been an in­trigu­ing courtship be­cause the script that their ro­mance in­spired is stacked with more lay­ers than a $100,000 wed­ding cake. What starts out look­ing like a sweet rom-com (and would have been a great date movie on that alone) dips into some very poignant dis­cus­sions of race, re­li­gion, hor­ror movies and standup com­edy. If you come to a place in “The Big Sick” that doesn’t seem to be all that in­ter­est­ing, just wait a mo­ment be­cause some­thing that will grab your at­ten­tion will come along.

All of these ex­am­i­na­tions of some of the big ques­tions in life un­fold against the back­drop of the Chicago com­edy club world. Pak­istan-born Ku­mail (Nan­jiani) has ig­nored the dis­grace he’s brought to his judg­men­tal fam­ily and con­tin­ues to chase a ca­reer as a standup comic. After one show, Ku­mail

con­fronts Emily (Zoe Kazan), be­cause she heck­led him dur­ing the per­for­mance. They dis­agree on the def­i­ni­tion of heck­ling but agree to end the evening in such a way that nei­ther of them will be stand­ing up.

Their re­la­tion­ship starts and stops mostly be­cause Ku­mail can’t tell his par­ents that he has no in­ter­est in an ar­ranged mar­riage to any of the end­less pa­rade of women they push on him. He knows that if his par­ents find out he’s dat­ing the very non-Pak­istani Emily they will throw him out of the fam­ily.

Just when the re­la­tion­ship seems fin­ished, Ku­mail re­turns to Emily’s life when she’s rushed to the hos­pi­tal and ends up in a med­i­cally in­duced coma. The ar­rival of Emily’s par­ents (Ray Ro­mano, Holly Hunter) and the con­tin­u­ing pres­sures from his own par­ents push Ku­mail to be­gin ques­tion­ing where he wants to be in his life.

Di­rec­tor Michael Showal­ter uses the same great skill at bring­ing to­gether dif­fer­ent worlds that he showed in “Hello, My Name is Doris.” In that film, the bul­let points were mostly to do with aging. In “The Big Sick,” Showal­ter tack­les other is­sues, such as deal­ing with fam­ily when it comes to the col­li­sion of dif­fer­ences. Ku­mail wants to be­lieve that the trou­bles he’s hav­ing at home are par­tic­u­lar to his back­ground but learns through Emily’s par­ents that those is­sues are shared by people around the world. Showal­ter makes some very se­ri­ous points with­out tear­ing apart the ta­pes­try of the ro­mance.

On the is­sue of find­ing the right ca­reer, Showal­ter smoothly weaves in the life at the com­edy club to tell some very dear and real sto­ries about know­ing when to chase a dream and when it is time to wake up. He does the same thing with race is­sues, a topic that can be ex­plo­sive if not han­dled with this kind of skill.

None of this would work with­out beau­ti­ful per­for­mances by Nan­jiani and Kazan. Not only does he bring a won­der­ful dry hu­mour to the role but he’s com­fort­able in big emo­tional mo­ments, whether deal­ing with be­ing a called a ter­ror­ist or con­fronting Emily’s emo­tion­ally raw par­ents. A lesser ac­tor would have made both se­quences un­com­fort­able, but Nan­jiani han­dles them with the proper emo­tions.

Part of the rea­son his per­for­mance is so good is Kazan, one of the most un­der­rated ac­tors work­ing in films. Just as she did in the 2012 fea­ture “Ruby Sparks,” Kazan shows an in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to play a char­ac­ter who is equally strong and vul­ner­a­ble. She can take con­trol of a mo­ment with sweet hu­mour or a com­mand­ing look. But she’s at her best when she is fac­ing an emo­tional black hole.

Nan­jiani and Kazan have a nat­u­ral chem­istry that is needed to make this kind of movie work. The au­di­ence has to care enough about them that they feel a joy when they are to­gether and must deal with a sad­ness when they are apart.

Nan­jiani had an edge since he lived the real story, but the project would have had only half of a heart with­out Kazan. It’s through the pair that this story of life, love and com­edy comes across so touch­ing, funny and at­ten­tion hold­ing. It all comes to­gether to make this one of the best ro­man­tic come­dies to hit the­atres in a decade.


Ku­mail Nan­jiani and Zoe Kazan in "The Big Sick," one of the best ro­man­tic come­dies in a decade, says re­viewer Rick Bent­ley.

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