It's a rare occurrence for a film to come out of nowhere and blow me away. "The Big Sick", featuring a magnetic performance from Kumail Nanjiani, did just that when I screened it last month.
Here is a film that will make you laugh out loud at its raunchy yet inspired humor and then make you feel emotions that you weren't expecting. The best parts of this film are the ones you won't see coming, because this may be the only time you hear me put "feel good" and "raunchy comedy" in the same sentence, but "The Big Sick" fits that bill to a T. This is the best movie I've seen this year, and to think, I almost skipped it to do laundry at home.
Nanjiani (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is the star of this flick that is marketed as "an awkward love story", and he resonates unexpectedly as an aspiring comic in Chicago trying to make it to the next level. Kumail (yes, he keeps the same name in the film) goes on a stage for five minutes in a small nightclub with his fellow comics(played by real comedian Bo Burnham and SNL star, Aidy Bryant), and they are all vying for spots in a Montreal comedy festival.
When Kumail meets the rambunctious yet sweet Emily (Zoe Kazan, infusing the heroine with some much-needed backbone), his world is turned around, but there's just one catch: his strict Muslim parents want him to marry a Pakistani woman, and they frequently bring over women to family dinners with application type notecards to impress Kumail, and gain his hand in marriage. He wants none of it, and Emily is a breath of fresh air.
The script is so good, with Nanjiani and Emily Gordon sprinkling in comedy bits that will make you laugh until it hurts, and then laugh some more. It's not a comedian preach blend, but it's raw humor in its best form. However, the undercut of Kumail's struggle to honor his parents' wishes or follow his own heart's desire is a great flavor to the dish. At one point, Kumail reacts to his mother (Zenobia Shroff) by asking her why he was brought to America, and then told what he needs to do. What if you were shown the most fruitful things in the world, and then told to buy something less desirable from the other side of the aisle?
When Emily gets very sick and suddenly falls into a coma after her first big fight with Kumail (you can guess what about), the young man meets her ferocious parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and is taken to task. This is where the film took off for me because it's as if he is auditioning for Emily's love all over again after dating her.
It helps to have heavy hitters like Hunter and Romano, given roles that sync up to their individual talents as performers. Playing a flawed man, Romano's Terry can't heal a past indiscretion no matter how hard he tries, and he also wants the best care for his daughter. Hunter's Beth knows what happened between her daughter and Kumail, so it's a fun ride to see the ice thaw between those two.
Romano started out doing exactly what the young comics in this movie are doing, going on a stage and laying it all out. Here, he plays a man who isn't the funniest guy in the room, but he's far from dull. Hunter gives Beth that alarming ability to cut through the nonsense and tell it like it is. The scenes between the three actors are so well played.
You'll find yourself rooting for Kumail, and it's not just living happily ever after or getting the girl in the end. You want him to be at peace with himself and his family, and the struggles that await him in this movie reveal what a strong actor Nanjiani can be when given the proper area to stretch. While his Dinesh is a key ingredient on HBO's "Silicon Valley", this movie will be what you know the actor by from now on. It's a piece of work that is more revealing about his life than you could possibly know.
Again, movies don't often shift tones this seamlessly, making "The Big Sick" a signature blend of genres. You can't make jokes in one scene, and then quietly whisper to the audience, "we're going to get serious now," without something feeling forced. This movie will make you laugh and cry because it connects to what we desire in our lives: opportunity, freedom, and the beauty of chance.
And the jokes are downright filthy good and aren't afraid to climb the wall of edgy. There's a crack about 9/11 from Kumail that made me laugh uncomfortably loud, but that's what great humor can do. It sneaks up on what you really think and taps into it for a few minutes. Judd Apatow produced this movie, and you can tell it came from the heart.
"The Big Sick" is the realistic version of "While You Were Sleeping" but with better jokes and more honesty. It's the story of a guy who makes the boldest choice one could possibly fathom, and that's putting yourself out there for someone, no matter the cost all while he makes people laugh.
There's a scene near the end of the film where a distraught Kumail climbs onto the stage to do a skit, and he has to impress a person in the audience to maintain his chance to ascend in his profession. Instead of going through the same routine, he starts talking about Emily and a phone call he just had with Terry. Seeing the actor slowly break down, lose his grasp and just let it rip feels so real and earned that the movie went to another level for me.
I implore you to go see "The Big Sick" this weekend. Take your loved ones and friends. This is the type of film, like "Chef" and "Rust" and "Bone", that hit me out of nowhere, and now all I want to do is campaign in the street for people to see it.
Seeing a great movie is a lot like seeing your soulmate for the first time: you just want to tell everyone about it(or her). "The Big Sick" is one of the best films I've seen this year. Go see it.