When a come-on-line is “What’s your name, and would you like to see it in Urdu?”, we smile. When an allusion to the “X-Files” (our male star’s favorite series) is made by a potential Pakistani bride’s screams of “the truth is out there” , we laugh out loud! With a tone that will remind you of “My Big, Fat,Greek Wedding”, “The Big Sick” is an equally silly title with a spirited foray into another’s cultural norms.
Comic Kumail Nanjiani is the boyfriend of Emily (Zoe Kazan). Written by Nanjiani and his real wife, Emily Gordon, the film is semi-autobiographical. They are attracted to each other, hook up, and are fearful of steady dating. They break-up and Emily, who is studying to be a therapist, develops an infection in most of her vital organs. She is put into an induced coma after her ex-boyfriend’s signs the consent form. When Emily’s parents arrive in Chicago, they treat Kumail like the cad who broke their daughter’s heart. He wins them over with his steadfast devotion at her sick bed.
Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Their chemistries are well-matched: Hunter more high-strung to Romano’s laconic vibe. Her fight with a comedy club heckler is value laden. Kumail’s retort to Beth’s question of if the prejudice is always like this is fashioned into a joke: ” Usually a different mom comes in to help me.”
“The Big Sick” is well-paced, well-acted, and clever. The fact that it is also heartfelt makes it worth seeing. It is a romantic comedy with serious issues. The parents of both of our stars play key roles. Fidelity and parental expectations and imminent death are interwoven themes. The tone is kept both suspenseful, yet light, which is hard to do. Expert use of irony and understatement propel the format. One of my favorite understatements being Kumail’s: ” I like my jokes thoroughly explained”.
The communication between the parents and the young adults is honest and loving, yet fraught with conflict. It reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons that has a young couple sitting at a table with eyes locked over their wine glasses:” Before this goes any further, I should let you know that I have parents.”
One conversations comes after the sacrifices Kumail’s parents have made for him in coming to America is broached. He thanks his father and then asks why he was brought to America if his parents wished him to live a Pakistani life. His father, played beautifully by Anupam Kher, responds with his own question: “You think this American Dream is just getting what you want?” The next scene where Kumail orders at ” The Quick and Hot ” drive-in keeps the laughs ironing out the frustrations. Enjoy Kumail’s bag of devotions, especially the photo ashes of his mother’s bridal attempts. Zenobia Schroff is memorable as Kumail’s mother.
Director Michael Showalter does a great job of bringing us ” ghosting” mothers, teary fathers, and the possibility of a world in which cultural mixing can make for a fresh world, and maybe even peace in the Middle East.