The Big Sick

One of the main characters spends significant time in the hospital, but The Big Sick thankfully doesn’t dwell on the cryptic illness in its title.

Rather, this heartfelt and frequently hilarious comedy provides a vibrant and life-affirming twist on familiar themes about immigration, cultural traditions, romantic entanglements and fledgling comedians.

The latter of those is Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistan native whose semiautobiographical film is based upon his stand-up career, along with the real-life relationship highs and lows involving his American-born wife.

Although he’s since experienced a gradual rise to fame both on stage and television in the years since, the film hearkens back to when Kumail — living in a cramped Chicago apartment and sleeping on an air mattress — meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she gently heckles him during a set. They’re drawn together by each other’s shared sense of quirky humor.

But will the relationship last? The primary obstacle is Kumail’s overbearing parents, who use family dinners to introduce him to potential Pakistani brides, in accordance with tradition. He lacks the courage to stand up to them, and it causes a breakup.

Then Kumail gets a call that Emily is in the hospital with a serious undiagnosed ailment. That’s where he winds up meeting her strong-willed mother (Holly Hunter) and more understanding father (Ray Romano), and bonding with them over the uncertainty about her condition — and for Kumail, about his future with Emily.

The screenplay by Nanjiani and wife Emily Gordon (spoiler alert — she recovers) is candid in its portrayal of the more fragile moments between them in real life, while adding a tender promotion for inclusion and extended families in the melting pot that is contemporary America, free from political polemics or socioeconomic cynicism.

Nanjiani plays himself in a charismatic performance that appropriately resonates with authenticity, and might have the side benefit of providing a career breakthrough. His offbeat and slightly awkward chemistry with Kazan seems genuine as the couple endures some expected culture-clash hurdles.

Although the film seems embellished in spots for mainstream consumption, director Michael Showalter (Hello My Name is Doris) emphasizes the small surprises along the way, and refuses to settle for cathartic contrivances.

The endearing result is hardly a breakthrough, but a consistently amusing tale with an uplifting and thought-provoking message about modern romance.


Rated R, 119 minutes.