Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who wrote the screenplay, The Big Sick tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail (played by Nanjiani), who connects with graduate student Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) after one of his standup sets. What they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents. When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) who he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.
Directed with loose-limbed, naturalistic charm by Michael Showalter, this poignant, insightful and consistently funny film has Annie Hall-style authenticity. Nanjiani and Kazan are wonderfully engaging in the lead roles, but this is very much an ensemble piece in which the extended families are the real focus. Veteran star Anupam Kher is terrific as Kumail’s father, Azmat, torn between loyalties to his wife and his wayward son, while Adeel Akhtar raises the roof as Kumail’s brother, Naveed. Portrayed with vibrant affection and infectious good humour, this is a family whose company we crave, even as they drive one another crazy.
On Emily’s side, Hunter and Romano perfectly capture the ritual distractions of worried parents – Beth proactive and determined, Terry dour and disoriented, dutifully writing down every incomprehensible medical detail (‘is that with a ‘ph’ or an ‘f’?’) to stave off the sense of helplessness. Splendidly awkward conversations between Kumail and Terry provoke provocative guffaws, with thorny issues such as Islamophobia tackled with sharply deflating wit.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall