Ranging from gently witty to laugh-out-loud funny, The Big Sick is a vibrant comedy-drama which always engages despite broadly conventional structure and lack of stylisation. What it lacks in style, it makes up for in substance. Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s screenplay, based on their real-life experiences, has a lot of heart and only occasionally lapses toward saccharine sentimentality. At surface level the script is peppered with contemporary references that may age badly – “ghosting”, for example – but it interrogates an impressive range of issues including cultural and generational division with sensitivity and intelligence.
What could have been a more clear-cut romcom develops away from over-familiar trajectories in pleasantly surprising ways. The first act’s establishing of Emily and Kumail’s romance is followed by an even more touching dramatisation of the developing relationship between Kumail and Emily’s parents. After the eponymous illness the pace sags a little, yet this unusual portion is key to The Big Sick’s freshness.
With many of its characters hailing from the world of standup comedy, The Big Sick shares DNA with Judd Apatow’s Funny People, yet Gordon and Nanjiani manage both funnier dialogue and better crafted characters. Comics Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant give charismatic supporting turns, while a bespectacled and Apatowish Ray Romano is virtually unrecognisable from his Everybody Loves Raymond days.
As Emily’s mother, Holly Hunter blends acerbic cynicism with a soft centre, and creates a convincing mother-daughter dynamic with Zoe Kazan. Freed from the manic pixie dream girl roles she’s often embodied, Kazan exhibits much more range and is on career-best form.
The Big Sick, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not Showalter’s film at all but Gordon and Nanjiani’s. The bland, impersonal music and cinematography may not inspire, yet The Big Sick is a welcome addition to cinema’s ongoing exploration of identity politics in contemporary America.
CAST: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant
DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter
WRITERS: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani
SYNOPSIS: A couple deals with their cultural differences as their relationship grows.