KVIFF 2017 Review: ‘The Big Sick’ is a Big Winner

KVIFF 2017 Review: ‘The Big Sick’ is a Big Winner

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani knocks it out of the park in The Big Sick, a bitterly honest romantic comedy carefully drawn from events in the star and writer’s own life. 

Sick was produced by Judd Apatow and directed by The State’s Michael Showalter (and bears some of both of their comedic predilections), but it’s Nanjiani’s show all the way: co-written with wife Emily V. Gordon, the film tells what amounts to the actor’s life story, as end-credit pictures detail similarity to the real-life thing.

Playing himself, Nanjiani is a struggling standup comic trying to make it big in the Chicago scene alongside friends (and also real-life comics) played by Bo Burnham, Kurt Braunohler, and SNL’s Aidy Bryant.

The comedy club charm also scores him some luck with the ladies, including Emily (Zoe Kazan, filling in for his real-life wife); what initially begins as an awkward one-night stand eventually develops into a sweet and genuine romance. Kazan is especially appealing here, and she and Nanjiani have some great comic-romantic rapport.

But Nanjiani is holding a deep, dark secret. He’s… Pakistani. Well, of course he’s Pakistani, as his lengthy one-man detailing the history of cricket details, but just how much his heritage impacts his future life may hold devastating impact for his current relationship. 

Mom (Zenobia Shroff), you see, is still trying to hook him up with a nice Pakistani girl at every turn. And while Dad (Anupam Kher) and brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) are more sympathetic to his plight, Kumail risks losing his family if he doesn’t follow his religion and settle down with one of his mother’s picks. 

While this dynamic drives the film through its first act - and remains a large factor throughout - I was surprised - and touched - by the direction the film takes later on.

The titular Big Sick is completely unexpected, and brings Kumail in contact with Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, through much of the rest of the film. Both actors are terrific, and their characters get their own heartfelt relationship arcs with Kumail; it’s a rarely-seen portrayal of in-law bond, and a welcome addition here.

While The Big Sick gets serious, it never loses its (sometimes very dark) sense of humor; one 9/11 joke absolutely brought down the house at an opening night screening at the Karlovy Vary film fest.

After premiering to rave reviews at Sundance, the film started a bidding war and ended up in the hands of Amazon for a hefty fee. It’s a deserved one; though light on the traditional kind of romance one might expect from a rom-com, it’s got a whole lot of heart, and one heck of a comedic streak. 

Rolling out now in the US, The Big Sick will open wide in the Czech Republic on July 13.

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