'The Big Sick' Comes Off as a Heartwarming Love Story

While talking about his role in the movie The Big Sick on a recent TV talk show, actor Kumail Nanjiani joked that he didn't have to prep for the part since he just portrayed himself. And while Nanjiani is funny and charming (and, as he's proven with the hit HBO series Silicon Valley, a decent actor), he might be miscast in the movie. After all, the film, which is based upon how he and his real-life wife met, centers on him as a much younger and immature man. At 39, he might be a tad too old for the part.

That criticism aside, the heartwarming film works simply because the source material (and the accompanying script) is so terrific. It opens areawide on Friday.

A struggling standup comic, Kumail regularly performs at a small bar with a solid group of other comics. They have great rapport and regularly provide constructive criticism as they try to refine their acts. One night while performing, Kumail takes exception to a heckler and confronts her after the show. Actually, his confrontation is more of a come-on and the two hook up for a one-night stand. As Kumail drives her home (Kumail conveniently works as an Uber driver), Emily (Zoe Kazan) lets Kumail know that she's not ready for dating, and they shouldn't see each other again. He takes it well, and the two part ways.

It's not long before they're regularly hanging out with each other. Emily admits she didn't anticipate the relationship, and she feels "overwhelmed," in a good way. Kumail feels the same way about her. But Kumail hasn't yet broached the topic with his traditional parents, who insist he marry a Pakistani woman.

In fact, whenever he visits his parents for dinner, a single Pakistani woman just happens to drop by. Kumail shows no interest in the woman, though he does keep a box full of their photos at his apartment. And he doesn't explain the situation to Emily. When she discovers his little secret, she tells him he's a liar, and the two break up.

As fate would have it, she contracts a terrible infection and winds up the hospital where doctors induce a coma. ("It's a good coma," jokes Kumail as he tries to cope with Emily's illness. "It's kind of like how some carbs are good carbs.") Her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) arrive. Though they've heard about the breakup, they eventually befriend Kumail. Of course, the real question remains, what will Emily think when she wakes up?

While Nanjiani isn't convincing as Kumail, his co-star Kazan certainly is. She plays Emily as the sarcastic but sensitive type who knows just how to playfully push Kumail's buttons. And Romano and Hunter turn in remarkable performances as well, as parents who share a deep love and concern for one another even if they haven't sorted out their own differences after years of marriage. The film drags a bit in the middle, but the sharp writing and solid premise keep it afloat.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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