I have made it no secret in previous reviews that I have a low opinion of modern American comedies with their boring cinematography, awkward improvised dialogue and lazy story telling. Judd Apatow, the man behind Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin and Trainwreck is not the worst in this regard, he has at least got a cast that has some half way decent chemistry, and some of his more recent films have been pretty decent self-reflexive pieces about comedy. Though perhaps it is wrong to talk about Apatow as he is mainly a producer, an organiser, rather than creative talent, just because he is one of the biggest names attached to the product. So let’s talk about the new film he produced written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V Gordon, starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and directed by Michael Showalter, without mentioning Apatow again, that film is The Big Sick.
Kumail, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant to the united states, is a struggling stand up comedian and Uber driver living in Chicago. At one of his shows he meets a masters student called Emily, the two start dating and eventually break up. After not seeing Emily for a while, Kumail gets a call from one of her friends saying that she is in hospital and needs to be put in a coma. Kumail must call Emily’s parents and over the course of the eight days Emily is in the hospital will reconsider his life choices as he gets to know the parents of the girl he let go.
Writers, Kumail Nanijiani and Emily V. Gordon based the film on how they met and fell in love. It is an intensely personal story, almost tragic and one that they film with great characters and wonderful jokes. If there is any improvisation, then I couldn’t tell as all of the dialogue felt entirely natural and believable. Well they say that you should write what you know and the writers know their own lives and the dialogue and character moments trips along at a wonderful bounce.
Yes the film has some issues when it comes to pacing. It is essentially split into three different sections, the first being the first time Kumail and Emily get together, getting to know Emily’s parents while Emily is in a coma, then the moment Kumail and Emily get back together. In my opinion, each of these sections taken separately are the most excellent bits of comedy and romance writing I have seen in forever. However, it is the transitions between these sections that I found to be lacking. For example, the breakup scene happens way too quickly. This might have been because the writing was too good, with me rooting for the couple to stay together because of the excellent chemistry that exists between Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. But with editing that doesn’t allow what is being said to properly breathe and feel real, it comes off as a piece of “and then” story telling.
These problems with the plotting of the film can very easily be ignored because the acting is wonderful. Kumail is an intensely charismatic leading man and he brings a star studded cast filled with the likes of Ray Romano, Holly Hunter and Bo Burnam to new heights. He and Zoe Kazan, from Ruby Sparks, who plays his wife have an easy chemistry that makes the romance feel all the more real. Zoe Kazan is a true revelation in this film, exuding an easy charm that almost rivals Diane Keaton from Annie Hall. I would very happily watch this film over and over again just for the cast of great characters, up to and including the small parts played by Utopia’s Adeel Akhtar and Kurt Braunohler.
Aside from the problems the film has with pacing The Big Sick is a wonderfully funny and emotional movie that I hope will be placed on the same pedestal many have placed When Harry Met Sally on.