It’s always said that comedy and pathos go hand in hand – and that’s a notion that Kumail Nanjiani and wife Emily Gordon have taken to the limit, bringing their own real life experiences of the latter’s life-threatening illness to the big screen, resulting in one of the year’s very best romantic comedies.
Directed by Michael Showalter, fledging stand-up comedian Kumail meets Emily (played here by Zoe Kazan) at a bar, and while neither seem particularly interested in a relationship, that’s exactly what transpires between them. Though hopelessly in love, Kumail is getting pressured from his family to get married to a Pakistani girl, and he can’t bring himself to explain he wants to be with a white, American woman. Causing a friction between them, it becomes something of a side-note when Emily is forced into a medically-induced coma – and it’s during the painful wait for her revival where Kumail realises this is the woman he wants to be with forever – a sentiment enforced by the close affinity he forms with her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano).
Tonally The Big Sick is nothing short of a triumph – as an impressive balancing act between the more light-hearted moments, and the more poignant. It’s also refreshing to see an Asian man take on the lead in a Hollywood rom-com, and in an interracial couple too, as they are so rarely portrayed in cinema as objects of sexual desire. Nanjiani ensures the film explores his culture too, in an affectionate, if sometimes critical way – implementing it as a narrative device without any sense of contrivance. On a more negative note, it does feel that the illness comes into proceedings too early on – as perhaps it would be beneficial to explore the core relationship in greater depth, so that when Emily does get ill we’re fully invested in them both, whereas we’re left only with a brief montage to indicate they’ve fallen in love.
Regrettably, some of the more emotionally charged scenes are a little beyond Nanjiani – whereas Kazan comes into her element – but that’s not exactly a surprise given his background is more so in stand-up than dramatic endeavours. Plus, you know what, it just doesn’t matter at all in this instance. He’s incredibly likeable and endearing. In fact, they all are. This film may be flawed, but it has a charm and likeability unlikely to be matched by any other film this summer.