Big on laughs but also ten­der­ness

The Horowhenua Mail - - WHAT’S ON -

THE BIG SICK (M, 120 MINS), DIRECTED BY MICHAEL SHOWALTER,

In the early 2000s, Ku­mail Nan­jiani (who plays him­self on­screen and looks just a shade too old for the role) was a strug­gling stand-up comic and part-time cab driver liv­ing in Chicago.

One night, af­ter a gig, he met Emily Gor­don (Zoe Kazan – look­ing a lot like the real-life Emily) and the pair be­came very swiftly and hap­pily smit­ten with each other.

But Ku­mail is the son of strictly Shia Mus­lim Pak­istani par­ents who couldn’t imag­ine any mar­riage for him other than one they would ar­range.

Fright­ened by the prospect of be­ing dis­owned by his fam­ily, Ku­mail chose to not tell them about Emily. And then, in short or­der, the cou­ple broke up and Emily be­came deathly ill and was put in a med­i­cally in­duced coma.

Know­ing all that – it’s all in the trailer – will you be­lieve me when I tell you that The Big Sick is by far the fun­ni­est film I’ve seen in 2017. Be­neath the fusil­lade of beau­ti­fully crafted jokes, this is also one of the ten­der­est, sweet­est and most hon­estly heart­break­ing films for years. It’s an old tru­ism of scriptwrit­ers that mak­ing peo­ple cry is easy, but mak­ing them laugh is hard. The Big Sick, which was writ­ten by Ku­mail and Emily, achieves both, of­ten, and in my case, at the same time.

The di­a­logue and sit­u­a­tions un­err­ingly pierce the grief and slow-burn­ing dread of the hos­pi­tal scenes, but never in a way that feels con­trived or trite. These are peo­ple mov­ing through a tragedy, it’s just that a lot of gen­uinely funny and per­fectly ob­served stuff hap­pens along the way.

Help­ing im­mea­sur­ably is the Act 2 ar­rival of Emily’s par­ents, played, with unim­prov­able cast­ing, by Holly Hunter and Ray Ro­mano. The pair of them have bril­liant chem­istry and tim­ing to die for, in the ser­vice of a cou­ple of sub-plots that add com­plex­ity and an un­ex­pected thorni­ness to a film that was al­ready bounc­ing be­tween gen­res.

A small clus­ter of real-life Amer­i­can comics make up Ku­mail’s friends and co­horts (it’s a run­ning gag of sorts that the stand-up com­edy rou­tines in The Big Sick are far less funny than a lot of what is said off-stage). A con­sid­er­able part of the film’s achieve­ment is that ev­ery char­ac­ter on screen seems real and fleshed out.

There are no car­i­ca­tures or stereo­types here. From Ku­mail’s fam­ily, his doo­fus of a flat­mate, right down to an ob­nox­ious frat­boy heck­ler, ev­ery­one feels like they have a life off screen in­grained in their pores for us to see. Even the mon­taged pa­rade of ‘‘suit­able wives’’ that Ku­mail’s par­ents (Anu­pam Kher and Zeno­bia Shroff) ar­range are treated with dig­nity and in­tel­li­gence.

Di­rec­tor Michael Showalter keeps the film-mak­ing low key and un­showy, but the per­for­mances he has coaxed out of this cast are uni­formly won­der­ful.

God, I adored this film. The Big Sick is warm, hu­man, in­sight­ful and com­pas­sion­ate to its mar­row. I came out of the screen­ing with my faith re­stored on a num­ber of lev­els. Yes, a small, beau­ti­fully writ­ten film can still find an au­di­ence at a mul­ti­plex. And that a small, beau­ti­fully writ­ten film can also be funny in a way that most main­stream come­dies never even get close to. – Graeme Tuck­ett

Ku­mail Nan­jiani and Zoe Kazan star in The Big Sick.

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