ReelBob: ‘The Big Sick’ ★★★★
By Bob Bloom
Love, as movies have shown us hundreds of times, is oblivious to race, religion, color, gender or nationality.
The romantic comedy, “The Big Sick,” written by actor-comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, is a semi-autobiographical tale of their relationship.
The movie is no fairy tale; it rings sincere because it shows the warts and blemishes that make perfect love nearly impossible, but allows true love to climb its way to the top of relationship mountain.
Kumail and Emily — a strong, vulnerable performance by Zoe Kazan — meet at the Chicago comedy club where Kumail performs.
From the outset, you feel the chemistry that is growing between them.
Slowly, they begin dating and becoming a couple. Yet, as in most beginning interactions, they hide secrets from each other.
Kumail, who supports his comedy career by working as an Uber driver, joins his Pakistani family every weekend for dinner, during which his mother conveniently has single Pakistani women “drop by” with a photo of themselves in efforts to get her younger son to marry.
But Kumail is thoroughly American. He abhors the idea of an arranged marriage, wanting to wed for love.
After the fruitless dinners, Kumail stores each photo in a cigar box in his bedroom.
Much of “The Big Sick’s” appeal rests on its universal familiarity. Though Kumail is Muslim, he is not devout. Like many of us — Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon — he questions the precepts of his faith instead of blindly following them.
Kumail and Emily are going through the usual experiences of dating couples — finding common interests, attending parties and spending time getting to know each other better.
But slowly their pasts and secrets begin to emerge. Emily lets it slip that she was previously married. Kumail is taken aback and a bit hurt about her revelation.
Things come to a head when Emily discovers Kumail’s cigar box, and he is forced to admit that he has not told his parents about their relationship.
Devastated, she breaks it off.
Fate, though, intervenes when Emily is admitted to the hospital with some unknown disorder and Kumail is forced to sign paperwork that will put her in an induced coma until the doctors can determine what is wrong with her.
Kumail also must call Emily’s parents and give them the news.
At first, they want nothing to do with Kumail, but as he continues to visit the hospital to keep vigil on Emily, a bond slowly, but surely, grows as the three get to know each other better.
A hilarious moment is when Beth attacks a heckler while attending one of Kumail’s sets at the comedy club.
The appearances of Hunter and Romano — both of whom deserve supporting actress and actor Academy Award nominations — elevate the movie to an entirely deeper emotional plane.
Plus, Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff as Kumail’s parents, bring an individuality to their roles that sets them apart from any stereotypical portrayals usually offered of such characters.
Ironically, as screenwriters, Nanjiani and Gordon, have not been very kind to Kumail. While he is a nice guy and a good man, the script highlights his character flaws — his timidity in confronting his parents about his future, his secretiveness about his feelings for Emily and his lack of confidence in who he is and what he wants to do on stage.
It’s no spoiler that everything works out for Kumail and Emily in the end.
But the journey — that wonderful and delightful voyage — that unites two as one is well worth viewing, not only because it is an enchanting and amusing story, but also because we come to understand how the similarities in people so outweigh the differences that they really are negligible where love is concerned.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
THE BIG SICK
4 stars out of 4
(R), language, sexual situations