“Hey Em? Remember when you were in a coma? That was hilarious. We should write a movie about it.” This is of course not how it went down in the Nunjiani/Gordon household (I assume), but it’s where my twisted, jaded mind went upon my first viewing of ‘The Big Sick’. Knowing that it is a true story before walking in is both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately you know that there’s a happy ending - and before you angrily type “Spoiler Alert!” @ me, star and writers Kumail Nunjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon have been freakin’ everywhere lately promoting the crap out of this movie, so just don’t even! And it’s a blessing because it makes the story all the more powerful being rooted in truth - the laughs are funnier and the tears are wetter. Of course I’m not an idiot - I’m fully aware of the “artistic licenses” taken here, even before Kumail and Emily told me (and 100 others sitting in the audience) at the recent Australian premiere, so I don’t believe it’s all true... just most of it.
So it’s a classic Pakistani stand-up comedian meets almost therapist Emily (Zoe Kazan) at a gig one night. The pair hit it off and embark on a relationship, but behind the scenes Kumail (Kumail Nunjiani, ‘Silicon Valley’) is subjected to a constant parade of women or “appointments” organised by his mother, all in a bid to find him a nice Pakistani girl to marry. When Emily finds this out the couple split, but Kumail who comes to her aid when a serious infection puts Emily in danger and is forced into a medically induced coma. When Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) arrive, it’s a continued culture clash and friction leading to powerful revelations as Emily’s health deteriorates and relationships are put to the test.
‘The Big Sick’ is very funny, but Kumail and Emily’s humour seems to be a lot drier than you’d expect from a Judd Apatow project. However, the most interesting thing about this film - and also the most ironic since it’s about a comedian - is that its biggest strength and best moments come from the drama and emotional side, not the comedy. Directed by Michael Showalter - better known as an actor, in particular for ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ - this is under the guidance of über-comedy producer Judd Apatow, and while a foot wrong is rare for Apatow, he does have a tendency to run his films a little long. At two hours, it’s at least 15 minutes longer than necessary especially for a comedy, however this small lapse in judgement is forgiven because the film is just so darn good.
The cast is pitch perfect... But the real revelation is Holly Hunter...she is divine perfection.
The cast is pitch perfect. Nunjiani and Kazan and just adorable as is Kumail’s family and plethora of one-line wonder dates. But the real revelation is Holly Hunter. While a steadily working actress she hasn’t exactly been chewing up our screens lately with memorable roles, but here she is divine perfection - and I have no doubt her efforts will be rewarded come awards season. As Ray Romano’s Terry, a character ironically described in the film as “about as funny as a fart at a funeral”, he takes a nice toned-down approach as he lets the ladies and younger comedians take centre stage - but not to worry, he still gets his time in the sun.
An immensely enjoyable, moving and painfully relevant film, funnier now at its release than when it was being made - ‘The Big Sick’ is one of the funniest and most heartfelt films of the year.