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Movie Review: #TheBigSick

The romantic comedy The Big Sick at once charms its way into making us love it, while exposing its one fault.

Review by Matt Cummings

The idea of an important and heartfelt social comedy - one that Director John Hughes might have crafted in the 80's or the laugh-out-loud message of separation in Swingers by John Favreau - feels so distant in our modern times. Even the darling of Sundance - The Big Sick - isn't quite that, but it's got a ton of heart and edges so close to brilliance, only to be shot down by a problematic third act.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a struggling Pakistani-American comic living in Chicago who desires to hit it big time. While performing one night, he encounters the antics of Emily (Zoe Kazan), a spry blonde whom he instantly connects with. She too finds him interesting, with Kumail going so far to drive her home in his secondary job as an Uber driver. Soon, the two find themselves hanging out all the time, but the joy Kumail finds is also tainted with worry. You see, his culture requires him to accept an arranged marriage, set up by his mother (Zenobia Shroff) and father (Anupam Kher). They hilariously invite one Muslim woman after another over, while pretending they are just "dropping by." With every family dinner, another potential bride drops by and drops off their resume, which Kumail adds to his cigar box. But after an argument that ends their relationship, Emily becomes gravely ill, and Kumail finds himself signing documents for her while Emily's parents Terry (Ray Romano), and hostile mom Beth (Holly Hunter) travel to take over. As Emily's life hangs in the balance, Kumail must weigh telling his parents about her, while entertaining her parents and their obvious concerns for his continued attendance at her side.

I've never seen HBO’s Silicon Valley, but you have to like Nanjiani here. He's so genuine - perhaps because he and wife Emily V. Gordon wrote the script - and often hilarious that it's a lot like Favreau's autobiographical Swingers. You feel the sense of entrapment that Kumail is facing from his parents, how he wants to extricate himself from the situation, and his conflict to balance Emily with his parents' desires. But it's the moments when Nanjiani and Kazan are together that's become the best part of The Big Sick. They have real chemistry, especially in one scene where Emily confesses that she must go a big Number 2 and that his tiny apartment will reveal that to his roommate. All of this plays into a palpable sense of authenticity, mirroring the social conflicts that so many must endure in our open society, that it instantly feels like something you've overheard from friends.

But The Big Sick also has its problems. Director Michael Showalter leaves about 15 minutes too much here, especially a sloggy third act where Romano, Hunter, Nanjiani hem and haw about Emily's fate. Being a bit judicious here would have resulted in the best relationship comedy in perhaps a decade, but it's still bolstered by terrific and honest performances, particularly from Romano, who delivers enough funny lines to fuel Kumail's show to stardom. Romano's had a hard time transitioning to movie comedies, so it's great to see some of the middle-age angst of Everybody Loves Raymond show up here. Hunter is still a delight, and that goes a long way when things begin to slide.

The Big Sickhas a ton of charm, and uses that charm to make you love it, but don't expect it to be the revolution in romantic comedy that everyone is suggesting. Cut 15 minutes out, and it's exactly that good. It does set itself apart from The Summer of Shame, producing a genuine article instead of a commercial for sequels that probably won't ever happen (Baywatch and CHiPs, I'm talking to you). But I'd say see it anyways, as it rewards you greatly for sticking it out.

The Big Sick is rated R for language and sexual references and has a runtime of 120 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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