"Write what you know!" It's the first bit of advice not to mention, the most common refrain that budding novelists and screenwriters will hear from experts, mentors, and just about anyone who's caught them contemplating a blank computer screen. It's a tip that Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon took very seriously when they sat down to write their first film.
The resultant effort is a crackling romantic comedy titled "The Big Sick" that's sharp, funny, deeply affecting, and feels a hundred per cent authentic. Nanjiani and Gordon who co-wrote the script, are married in real life, and the film is a personal story based on their own relationship and the terrible health scare Gordon suffered. It also examines the struggles of cultural differences and provides an unvarnished account of the Chicago stand-up scene.
That's a lot to pack into a single film, you might think. And it may have been for a less skilled team. But Nanjiani and Gordon, along with director Michael Showalter, under the guiding eye of producer Judd Apatow, have pulled off that rare thing a laugh-out-loud comedy with a genuinely emotional center.
Nanjiani, who you might recognize from his role as peevish computer coder Dinesh in the HBO show "Silicon Valley", plays a slightly younger version of himself, a rookie stand-up comic from a traditional Pakistani family now living in Chicago. He meets, dates, and subsequently falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), but their relationship hits a dead end because he can't muster up the courage to stand up to his family who're insistent that he marries a Pakistani girl. In fact, they've broken up when Emily becomes critically ill and is put in a medically induced coma.
The film's best bits are the ones that explore how Kumail deals with her illness, and her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) who show up to be by her side in hospital. All three actors bring such incredible honesty to these delicate scenes depicting the bond that develops between them…tentatively.
Honesty, in fact, is the biggest strength of this film, which deftly avoids clichés of the genre and goes to uncomfortable, sometimes dark places in its pursuit of truth. It boils down to the intuitive, masterful writing once again that Nanjiani and Gordon effectively demonstrate how humor serves as the perfect antidote to sorrow and despair.
The scenes between Kumail and his family also bristle with an all-too-familiar spark. Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are especially good as his parents who're convinced they know what's best for their son, while unknowingly widening the gap between them.
There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in "The Big Sick", from its terrific dialogue to its wonderfully astute observations on love, friendship and family, and the lengths we will go to for each. The performances are extraordinary too, by Kazan, who is real and lovely despite her limited screen time, and Nanjiani, who digs deep to reveal a depth of emotion that you're frankly unprepared for. From the way his character handles racist heckling, to his identity as a second-generation Pakistani immigrant in America, to the competitive yet unshakeable friendship between struggling comedians, he puts it all on screen with amazing sincerity.
This is a film that raises the bar for romantic comedies hereon. It's a film I know I'm going to watch again soon, to savor the company of its characters. Don't miss "The Big Sick". It's a real gem. I'm going with four out of five.
Rating: 4 / 5