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"THE BIG SICK"
(2017) (Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: A stand-up comedian must contend with his traditional Pakistani parents wanting him to marry a woman via an arranged marriage, all while he's fallen for an American girl who's now in a medically-induced coma.
PLOT:
Kumail (KUMAIL NANJIANI) is a stand-up comedian from Pakistan who's trying to make it big via the comedy clubs in Chicago, much like his roommate, Chris (KURT BRAUNOHLER), and their friends, CJ (BO BURNHAM) and Mary (AIDY BRYANT). While dealing with that pressure, he must also contend with his parents, Azmat (ANUPAM KHER) and Sharmeen (ZENOBIA SHROFF), wanting him to marry someone via an arranged marriage, much like his brother, Naveed (ADEEL AKHTAR), did with Fatima (SHENAZ TREASURYWALA). Whenever he's at his parents' house, his mom has arranged for one young Pakistani woman after another to drop by so he can meet them.

But much like he hides the fact that he doesn't do his daily prayers as they believe, he also hasn't told them that he's met a young grad student, Emily (ZOE KAZAN), and despite both of them not wanting to end up in a relationship, they do just that. It's short-lived, however, as Emily soon learns of his parents' desires and plans for him and that she likely won't be in them. Accordingly, she breaks up with him, only to contract a mysterious infection not long after that which leaves the doctors with no choice but to put her in a medically induced coma to stabilize her.

Kumail goes to the hospital to see her and ends up meeting her parents, Beth (HOLLY HUNTER) and Terry (RAY ROMANO), who've flown in from North Carolina and want nothing to do with him, what with having been told everything by their daughter. From that point on, what begins as an uneasy joint vigil at the hospital ends up turning into something unexpected, all while he reconsiders a possible future with Emily.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Part of the "fun" of being a movie reviewer in the Washington, D.C. area is contending with the horrendous traffic while trying to get to or return from a press screening. My personal record is four-plus hours after leaving an evening screening when half an inch of snow fell on the roads, everyone lost their minds (and driving skills), and traffic Armageddon ensued.

I would have loved to have had such cold temps on my way to see "The Big Sick." And that's because leaving another press screening to head to that one not only featured the usual bumper to bumper traffic and a minutes to miles ratio that went off the charts, but also an air conditioner that died in 90-plus degree heat, followed by the car overheating and having to drive with the windows down and the heat on full blast (to cool the engine).

Granted, in the overall scheme of things, it wasn't much more than an inconvenience (not counting the four-figure repair) and certainly not a big deal. Especially when compared to something like having parents continuously trying to set you up into an arranged marriage with a woman you don't know, or having your girlfriend dump you, only to then be put into a medically induced coma to keep her alive. Yeah, I'll take the sweltering drive over either of those. That is, unless they appear in a romantic comedy as delightful as this one.

As far-fetched as having such disparate plot elements might sound for a rom-com -- at least one that could pull off combining that -- what's more remarkable is that they're actually based on a true story. A decade ago, Emily V. Gordon was a Chicago-based therapist who was less than a year into a relationship with stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani. She then took ill -- and quite seriously so -- when the extremely rare autoimmune malady known as adult-onset Still's disease sent her to the ER and then into a medically induced coma as doctors and specialists tried to figure out what was wrong.

In a prime example of both "we'll laugh about this in ten years" and "when life hands you lemons, make some lemonade," the two have turned what was certainly a harrowing experience into the best and most original romantic comedy of the year. With both serving as co-writers of the screenplay and Nanjiani playing himself (while Zoe Kazan stands in for the real Emily), they deliver a flick that initially feels like a Judd Apatow offering with the same sort of snappy dialogue, fun characters and decidedly adult banter and comedy.

Yet, rather than Apatow being behind the camera (although he is one of the producers), Michael Showalter ("Hello, My Name Is Doris") takes the reins and delivers a very entertaining and enjoyable flick that starts off pretty much like any standard rom-com, and then segues into something completely unexpected but just as satisfying. In fact, it sort of goes through the genre story arc (meet cute, fall in love, and then have the big falling out just when things seemed peachy) at warp drive so that it can delve into the meatier material that arrives post-coma.

And that's when Kumail ends up meeting Emily's parents (played well here by Ray Romano and especially Holly Hunter) who initially want nothing to do with him, what with them being fully aware that he broke their daughter's heart. Despite that rejection, however, the protagonist feels compelled to stick it out, ends up befriending the parental units (and vice-versa), learns something along the way about relationships, and ultimately decides he can and must ignore the Pakistani elephant in the room and fully commit to this young woman -- should she ever come out of the coma.

The aforementioned, room-filling cinematic pachyderm is none other than Kumail's family and particularly his parents (played by Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher) who are determined that despite him being in America, he's going to live a standard Pakistani life, including allowing them to pick out the young woman for his pre-arranged marriage. He wants no part of that (or praying every day) but plays along so as not to rock the boat, and uses his ethnic challenges as fodder for some of his stand-up comedy routines (he's an aspiring comedian, like his roommate and friends -- something that gives the film even more of an Apatow vibe).

So, while he continues his vigil at the hospital with the possible future in-laws, he must contend with a parade of young women "who were just passing by the house" and drop in for dinner and a little meet, greet and agree to get hitched dinner. That material might sound like it could fall into the trappings of some mediocre sitcom, but all involved thankfully avoid that and make the material sing, much like the rest of the screenplay.

You can always tell when a script is clicking and firing on all cylinders, and the one here does just that. As does everything else about the flick. While it might not get you all hot and bothered like driving with the heat on and the windows open on a D.C. summer afternoon in bumper to bumper traffic, the offering -- despite some of its seemingly downer subject matter -- is a cool and refreshing time at the movies. I thoroughly enjoyed it and thus rate "The Big Sick" a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 21, 2017 / Posted June 30, 2017


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