Movie Review: ‘THE BIG SICK’ provides the cure for the romantic comedy

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James Cole Clay  // Film Critic

THE BIG SICK
Rated R, 119 minutes.
Director: Michael Showalter
Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe KazanHolly HunterRay Romano and Anupam Kehr

The romantic comedy has been done to death. What once had audiences swooning over star crossed lovers now induces audible groans. Let’s just agree to blame Matthew McConaughey. But luckily for us, THE BIG SICK exists and it’s nothing short of, dare I say, perfect?

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, this film brings the story of their unconventional relationship to the big screen. There are countless things to love about THE BIG SICK’s infectious charms. From the naturalism in Nanjiani’s award-worthy performance to its moments of undying laughter, much of what you see will have you grinning from ear to ear.

Films are all about character perspective, sometimes it’s skewed and rarely is it so true it hurts. Nanjiani and Gordon’s script proves one thing: specific stories have the ability to become universally personal. The perspective in THE BIG SICK is from Nanjiani himself, who’s a struggling stand-up comedian that’s caught between his Muslim heritage and his new-ish life in the United States. To me, this is a real American story about cultures clashing and finding a common ground. Gordon and Nanjiani’s writing shows that we as Americans have many more similarities than we realize; all we have to do is dig deeper.

After an adorable meet-cute, Kumail and Emily’s (portrayed by Zoe Kazan) relationship quickly turns from casual to serious without warning. Their cultural differences get in the way, but the filmmaking team brilliantly show there are no villains in this scenario. In a pivotal scene, Kumail’s father Azmat (played by Bollywood legend Anupam Kehr) exclaims “the American dream doesn’t mean you have to be selfish!”

Actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan star in ‘THE BIG SICK.’ Courtesy of Amazon Studios / Lionsgate.

So many different types of audience members have so much to learn and appreciate about this film. On one hand, it’s a beautiful love story, on the other, it’s about finding your true self in the wake of tragedy — and on the other side the entire film, it’s blatantly hilarious.

And thats why its impossible not to give tons of credit to director Showalter’s (HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS) circus act of juggling tones. THE BIG SICK is never just one type of experience; Showalter allows us to feel and laugh at the same time.

Where Nanjiani lacks in some of the more tear-jerking scenes (keep in mind, this his first leading role), he nails everything else that this incredibly intimate story demands. And while his chemistry with Kazan permeates the screen and genuinely does carry the movie in her absence, it’s Nanjiani’s scenes with Emily’s parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) that not only ground the film, they transform the movie into a dynamic that’s unique.

This stranger-than-fiction tale never winces in the face of its many lessons and more challenging moments. Not that awards mean everything, but THE BIG SICK deserves to be in the conversation come late fall. Nanjiani and Gordon have made a magnum opus that’s small yet epic, and will be cherished by more than its biographers for many years to come.

Grade: A

THE BIG SICK is now out in limited release, and it roll out nationwide by July 14.