The Big Sick

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 28, 2017

The Big Sick

Most couples have been asked the question, "How did you meet?" Some answers are dull, others decent, while some couples have the luxury of providing a truly excellent response. One of these couples is Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, who transformed their turbulent courtship into the screenplay "The Big Sick," which is directed by Michael Showalter ("Hello, My Name is Doris") in a film that is at once charming, heartfelt, funny, taxing and bland.

When they first meet, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself in the film) is an aspiring stand-up comedian from an orthodox Pakistani Muslim family, while Emily (portrayed in the film by Zoe Kazan) is a student he meets at one of his gigs. After falling for one another, their relationship hits a roadblock when it's revealed that Kumail's family insists he wed a Pakistani woman through arranged marriage, an ordeal that Kumail puts up with to appease his insistent mother. Doubting any real future together, Emily leaves Kumail, and the next time we see her she's being placed into an induced coma at the hospital due to a mysterious infection in her lungs.

Produced by Judd Apatow, "The Big Sick" is filled with his trademarks --stories based on the real-life experiences of comedians, a hefty load of exhausting improvisational comedy, a runtime that feels at least a half hour too long. The true story aspect of this particular film makes it both sweet and strained, a product that feels honest in its approach yet hokey in its execution.

I imagine all of these films are coming from candid places. Apatow's own "This is 40" dug into his marriage with actress Leslie Mann. The show he produced for Netflix, "Love," was co-created with husband/wife duo Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust. Even HBO's "Girls," which Apatow produced and wrote for, has origins within the autobiographical depths of its creator, Lena Dunham.

But just because something happened to you doesn't always make it interesting cinematically, and an admittedly noteworthy story communicated at the family dinner table or a party with friends doesn't always mean you should make an entire damn movie about it. That being said, "The Big Sick" often transcends these peeves with moments of genuine heart, humor, and warmth. But in the end, they're still just strong moments strung together within 119 minutes of steady unevenness. A handful of really affecting and hilarious seconds doesn't mean you need to have over 7,000 of them. Perhaps if director Michael Showalter bothered to give the film an aesthetic that did anything interesting visually, or even stood out among your standard cable comedy show, the film's gratuitous length would have felt a bit more acceptable.

The film is at its strongest in the stretch of Emily's coma, where Kumail is forced into a collaborative crisis mode with Emily's parents, Terry and Beth, played with remarkable range by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Romano, particularly, is the film's most compelling revelation. This is a career performance by an actor who has been significantly branching out since his days of sitcom glory. Hunter as well delivers a grand performance as Emily's outspoken, protective mother, and she and Romano share a toxic yet tender chemistry together that showcases the struggles and strengths of parenthood and marriage. They're easily the movie's strongest component and any time spent with them on screen lifts "The Big Sick" out of its frequent battles with storytelling fatigue.

Speaking of fatigue, the film truly tests its limits in the third act, which seems to have just as many endings as "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." Hell, even the theater gave up after a while, and the house lights came up before the credits even began to roll. "The Big Sick" is definitely a sweet story that deals equally in themes of parenting, relationships and staying true to one's principles, but at the end of the day, it doesn't quite justify its existence of being anything but a moving anecdote. If you were to spend just under two hours telling me this same story at a party, I'd be making up an excuse to leave the conversation. Just because you decide to film it doesn't necessarily mean it was worth being filmed in the first place.


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