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Review: The Big Sick (Sundance) with Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan

The Big Sick (Sundance) with Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan
01.23.2017
8 10

PLOT: A Pakistani-American comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) finds himself torn between the demands of his traditional family and those of his girlfriend (Zoe Kazan) when her life is threatened by a mysterious illness.

REVIEW: Judd Apatow’s listing as a producer for THE BIG SICK is very apropos. Just like he made stars out of Steve Carell in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, Seth Rogen in KNOCKED UP, and Amy Schumer in TRAINWRECK, stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, best known for HBO’s “Silicon Valley” seems primed for the same type of breakthrough.

Based on his own courtship with wife Emily V. Gordon, who co-authored the screenplay with her hubby, THE BIG SICK is one of the titles everyone is sure will break-out beyond Sundance, and certainly Apatow’s involvement bodes well for its chances. Michael Showalter, best known for WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and directing THE BAXTER as well as the recent, well-received HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS, makes a big stab at the mainstream with his handling of Nanjiani’s vehicle. While the two hour plus running time is a bit indulgent for a comedy, this sweet-natured dramedy is a mighty likable film.

Nanjiani’s charisma is in full-display right from the first frame. Playing himself, we follow Nanjiani as he works part-time as an UBER driver, sharing a dingy apartment with a less talented colleague and tries to make it by playing Chicago’s circuit with comedians played by Bo Burnham and SNL’s Aidy Bryant, both seemingly playing versions of themselves. But, rather than focus on the life of a stand-up, which has become an almost formulaic tale at this point, the film departs from that in a major way once he meets Zoe Kazan’s Emily.

We follow the two as they start dating, with Nanjiani hiding her from his family, who demands he submit to an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman, while she yearns for him to make a substantial commitment. While Nanjiani and Kazan’s chemistry is magnetic, this is not a traditional rom-com. Early in the film, Kazan’s Emily falls into a coma, and the rest of the film follows Nanjiani as he gets to know her parents (Holly Hunter & Ray Romano) who have no idea what to make of him.

The way comedy and drama is balanced is similar to Apatow’s own films, like FUNNY PEOPLE and THIS IS 40, with Showalter embracing what seems to be his producer’s style, but the fact this is based on a true story gives it unexpected weight. It helps that Nanjiani’s acting is spot-on, with him acing the comedic bits and the drama, with even the depiction of his traditional family subverting stereotypes. Hunter and Romano are also terrific, with her in particular stealing scenes, such as when she has a violent reaction to one of Nanjiani’s hecklers, something he isn’t particularly bothered by.

While short on actual gags, in that this gets its comedy from more naturalistic, realistic situations, there are some hilarious bits, and the over 1000-strong audience at the Eccles theater at Sundance laughed so loudly at times whole exchanges of dialogue were missed. THE BIG SICK does struggle a bit in the homestretch finding an ending, and at 100 minutes or so this would probably play even better. Still, it’s a delightful film and a real crowdpleaser. I’d be surprised if this didn’t help Nanjiani break out in a big way.

Source: JoBlo.com

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