THE BIG SICK

Sil­i­con Val­ley’s Ku­mail Nan­jiani stars in and co-writes a movie that puts the coma in rom­com.

Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - JIMI FAMUREWA VERDICT Edgy and hi­lar­i­ous, Nan­jiani and Gor­don’s true story of cross-cul­tural love is a Trump-bait­ing mar­vel that’s worth the hype.

DI­REC­TOR Michael Showal­ter CAST Ku­mail Nan­jiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter

PLOT Pakistan-born co­me­dian Ku­mail (Nan­jiani) and grad stu­dent Emily (Kazan) start a re­la­tion­ship that runs into road­blocks. When a se­ri­ous ill­ness puts Emily in hos­pi­tal, Ku­mail’s handed an un­likely sec­ond chance.

FACED WITH SOME­THING as seem­ingly mun­dane as the thumbprint iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem on a smart­phone, not many big-screen come­dies will find the po­ten­tial for a dark vis­ual gag. Ac­tu­ally, few would spot any comic po­ten­tial what­so­ever. Not The Big Sick. Full of sharp ob­ser­va­tions that ac­knowl­edge ev­ery­thing from the most re­spect­ful way to un­lock a coma pa­tient’s phone to the vi­ral pos­si­bil­i­ties of a dis­as­trous com­edy gig, Ku­mail Nan­jiani’s (Sil­i­con Val­ley) Judd Apa­tow­pro­duced star ve­hi­cle couldn’t be more de­li­ciously 2017. From the out­set, this sparky cul­ture-clash­ing rom­com has a mod­ern edge.

It’s easy to see why it stood out at Sun­dance this year (and con­vinced Ama­zon Stu­dios to bro­ker a $12 mil­lion dis­tri­bu­tion deal). The story sits close to the real-life courtship of its co-writ­ers, Nan­jiani and his wife, Emily V. Gor­don. After she launches into a flirty bit of heck­ling at one of his shows, Pak­istani-amer­i­can stand-up and Uber driver Ku­mail (Nan­jiani) be­gins a pas­sion­ate re­la­tion­ship with trainee psy­chi­a­trist Emily (Kazan). He does, how­ever, with­hold that his fam­ily are in the process of find­ing him a nice Mus­lim bride, through a se­ries of ex­cru­ci­at­ing au­di­tions at the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble.

Ul­ti­mately, Ku­mail’s re­luc­tance to own up to his par­ents about Emily tears the cou­ple apart. But when she con­tracts a se­ri­ous virus and he’s the only one avail­able to sign off on a med­i­cally in­duced coma, her par­ents ar­rive (Ray Ro­mano’s sweetly dopey dad, along­side Holly Hunter’s snarling ter­rier of a ma­tri­arch) and the stage is set for a blackly comic tale of love, hon­esty and ster­ile hos­pi­tal wait­ing rooms.

It’s a dy­na­mite premise — with hand­squeez­ing ten­sion cour­tesy of Emily’s pre­car­i­ous sta­tus and awk­ward laughs through Ku­mail’s nervy in­ter­ac­tion with her par­ents — but the ex­e­cu­tion is just as im­pres­sive.

The script fizzes with droll, dirty wit (“Were you avail­able for rides while we were fuck­ing?” asks Emily after her and Ku­mail’s first hook-up), Nan­jiani is an en­gag­ing lead­ing man while Kazan works won­ders with a char­ac­ter who spends a large part of the film hooked up to a res­pi­ra­tor, and di­rec­tor Michael Showal­ter gives the early hos­pi­tal scenes an ef­fec­tive, ki­netic chaos.

What’s more, de­spite the reg­u­lar thrum of ten­sion-break­ing gags, it never pulls big emo­tional punches and, com­mend­ably, doesn’t of­fer easy an­swers to the thorny ques­tions of re­li­gion, tra­di­tion and fam­ily loy­alty. Ku­mail’s clan — bol­stered by the hi­lar­i­ous Adeel Akhtar as his older brother — are never sold out as the vil­lains, and even one of his prospec­tive brides gets a mul­ti­fac­eted bit of char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

Not all of it works — the back­stage scenes with Ku­mail and fel­low comics played by Bo Burn­ham and Aidy Bryant be­tray a bit of im­pro­vi­sa­tional bag­gi­ness — but this is a fear­lessly funny achieve­ment. And the end­ing — which man­ages to be sat­is­fy­ing with­out glibly ig­nor­ing what keeps plenty of cou­ples apart — is per­fectly pitched.

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