Kumail Nanjiani's auto-biographical rom-com tells a sweet story that though charming, drags along towards the end of its 124 minute run-time.
Among this year’s Sundance London selections of interesting independent features, The Big Sick stands out for its recognisable cast and production, as well as the sweet love story that forms its centre.
Co-produced by comedy blockbuster heavyweight, Judd Apatow, this charmingly penned rom-com is based upon the real life courtship of writer/star, Kumail Nanijani and his now-wife, Emily Gordon (played in the film by Zoe Kazan).
The film follows Kumail as an aspiring comedian, who one day, on stage, encounters a beguiling young woman in the audience. From there, a sweet, if slightly conventional, romance begins – only to be marred by Kumail’s traditional Muslim family, who are determined to match him with a Pakistani girl. As the relationship reaches breaking point, fate strikes and sees Emily waylaid by a mysterious illness, that puts Kumail face to face with her parents, as well as his own identity crisis.
A lot of the charm of this film comes from Nanijani’s central performance. Subtle, yet commanding, Nanijani is an affable presence onscreen, evoking fresh, breezy humour throughout the film. In the world’s current climate of hate and fear, it is also refreshing to see a depiction of Islam that takes the faith in jest and places it within a perfectly habitable setting. Kumail’s family are a joy to watch, with Anupam Kher and Adeel Akhtar stealing every scene they are in. Though this rom-com gets quite serious in places, the funny, yet endearing dynamic between this Muslim family is one of the film’s triumphs.
One of the genre’s regular leading ladies, Zoe Kazan compliments Nanijani well in her role as Emily, adding a quirky sense of humour that adds to the couple’s likeability. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are also resplendent as Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry – throughout the drama of Emily’s sudden illness, we get to see their characters develop in ways that are very enjoyable to watch. Cameos from the likes of Bo Burnham and Saturday Night Live‘s Aidy Bryant also add some light comic relief that incurs a chuckle or two.
However, where the film lacks is in its overall time and cohesiveness. At 124 minutes, the film drags on a little longer than it perhaps should – and due to it’s very dialogue-driven narrative, that time is made to feel just that little bit longer. Some of the best rom-coms are wordy and dense with character development (the archetypal rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, is a good example), but here there’s something missing. Though there are occasional moments of whimsy, there aren’t many zingers amongst the film. While its subtlety adds to its charm, it also detracts slightly from the comic value at hand.
The combination of sweet romance and heavy melodrama (particularly in the hospital scenes and thereafter), also feels a little disjointed – one moment we’re sitting easy in Kumail’s Uber, the next we’re in a hospital facing issues of life and death. Though based on true events, and commendable in its attempt to shake up the tropes, it still sits uncomfortably on the viewer, leading to a slightly underwhelming conclusion.
Despite its length and moments of overwhelming melodrama, The Big Sick is still a fairly likeable rom-com that gives a welcome starring vehicle to Nanijani and other supporting members of the cast.
The Big Sick (2017), directed by Michael Showalter, distributed by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate, is due to be released on demand on 23rd June. (Certificate 15)