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|Mon, 26 Jun 2017 18:46:33 -0500|
Seldom do films achieve the delicate balance of humor and serious commentary. Kudos, then, to The Big Sick, a funny, sweet character study steeped in cultural issues. Kumail [coo mel] Nanjiani is a stand-up comedian who drives for Uber. One night during his routine at the Comedy Club, Emily interrupts. Thus begins a relationship Kumail hides from his traditional Pakistani parents.
Meantime Kumail's mother Sharmeen works tirelessly to arrange a marriage, what, as Kumail says, we call "romance." Though born in Pakistan, Kumail has grown up in Chicago and has assimilated quite well; for example, he doesn't pray as a Muslim should as he comically demonstrates in one scene. But honors his heritage, loves his parents, and doesn't want to disrespect them with confrontation. When, as the title signals, Emily sustains a serious illness, the various elements Kumail has juggled so dexterously will collide.
In the course of developments, several important cultural issues and stereotypes will be explored, along with refreshing gender portrayals; that is, Emily has a strong, appealing personality and Kumail isn't an unemotional clown. Both have depth and appeal; they seem a couple meant for each other because they click.
Director Michael Showalter doesn't rush or hype the comedy, meaning it lands with full impact as ironic and offbeat comments register, often followed by reaction shots that increase the humor. It's a wonderful change from the gross out jokes and slapstick too pervasive today. Here clever dialogue, presented so naturally and low key, pulls us in. Credit this to real-life couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani who wrote the script, based roughly on the first year of their relationship.
Bringing their wonderful story to life is Kumail as himself, known to many from HBO's Silicon Valley. As Emily, Zoe Kazan brings an enviable energy and presence to the scenes. As her parents, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano add gravity during the hospital stay, but keep the mood from becoming gloomy, no mean feat. As Kumail's parents, Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher, a legendary Bollywood actor, are dignified and comedic, a great achievement in a study of ethnic difference.