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20 Jul 2017

Far More Than a Normal Rom-Com: 'The Big Sick' Will Leave You Laughing and Crying—Because It's One of the Year’s Best Films

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Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick.

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy like no other. Yes, two people fall in love—but that’s about all The Big Sick has in common with your average romantic comedy. This film is an amazing beast off in its own category.

Real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon penned the script based on their own courtship. Nanjiani plays himself, while the eternally awesome Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) steps into the role of Emily. Their story is incredible, and the way it is presented here—by a fine ensemble under the direction of the great Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris, Wet Hot American Summer)—results in one of the year’s best films.

Kumail is a standup comedian trying to make it in Chicago when Emily takes in one of his sets. The two wind up in bed together, with Kumail actually being the Uber driver who has to take her home. They have a good time, but they vow to never see each other again.

That doesn’t last long, and the two wind up in a relationship—one that Kumail keeps secret from his Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who are trying to arrange a wife for him. Things get complicated, and the two of them split. Things get even more complicated when Emily winds up in the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, and Kumail is called upon by her friends to check on her.

After an awkward hospital visit, Emily winds up in an induced coma, with Kumail informing her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). As Emily’s situation worsens, Kumail, technically her ex-boyfriend, spends a lot of time with her parents—and a lot of time coming to terms with his feelings for Emily.

Nothing you know about Ray Romano will prepare you for just how damn good he is as Terry, Emily’s sensitive dad. I mean, the man was funny on Everybody Loves Raymond, but who knew he could not only do drama, but more than hold his own with an epic Holly Hunter? He has a scene in Kumail’s apartment, where he reveals details of his marital tensions, that will stand as one of the year’s best-acted scenes. He’s a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender.

Hunter is right there along with him when it comes to Oscar worthiness. Her Beth is a strong-willed person—so strong that she practically beats up a frat boy who is heckling Kumail at one of his gigs. Hunter is always good, but this role is her best in years. It’s also her funniest turn since playing Edwina in Raising Arizona 30 years ago. (Yes, Raising Arizona came out 30 years ago. Let that linger for a moment.)

Showalter—who actually spoofed romantic comedies when he co-wrote the script for 2014’s They Came Together starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler—rides the film’s shifting tones like an expert surfer. There are so many ways in which this movie could’ve gone wrong, but it’s never melodramatic or kitschy or cutesy. It deals with every relationship, cultural issue and family problem in an incisive way—all while making you laugh and cry. Hats off to Showalter.

Nanjiani, like Romano, has shown a stellar ability to make people laugh with past projects, but he delivers a range of emotions here that should lead him to dramatic roles for the foreseeable future, if he wants them. He is yet another Oscar contender—and even though her character spends a good chunk of this movie asleep, don’t count out Kazan, either, an actress of extreme power.

I don’t think I’ve ever before had to use my T-shirt sleeve to dab away tears from both laughing and crying while watching a movie in public. The Big Sick got me both ways—and it will get you, too.

The Big Sick is playing at theaters across the valley.

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