This dynamite, intimate romantic comedy sees Judd Apatow’s winning formula of timid man geeks, far-more-mature girlfriends and their huggably awkward parents get a welcome infusion of cross-cultural tension – along with some scary medical realities.
Apatow is only the producer of 'The Big Sick', but the creative prime mover is actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani, better known as peevish computer coder Dinesh in 'Silicon Valley'. Developing an autobiographical script with his co-writer wife, the TV producer and podcaster Emily V Gordon, Nanjiani shapes the story of a Chicago stand-up comic’s wobbly rise, a journey that's altered by love, illness and some much-needed late-on backbone.
Hoodie-clad, backpacked Kumail (Nanjiani, adding impressive emotional depth to his nerd persona) turns his Pakistani heritage into a source of laughs for comedy club crowds. He’s got a dense one-man show involving charts about cricket, and his jokes often exploit racial anxieties. One night, Kumail’s routine is interrupted by a smiling new fan, Emily (Zoe Kazan, owning her scenes), and a banter-crammed flirtation follows. But Kumail can’t tell his fiercely attentive suburban parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, both excellent) about the white girl he’s seeing. Instead, he stashes their photos of arranged-marriage candidates in a cigar box and rides out a courtship that he secretly thinks is doomed to fail.
'The Big Sick' already scores points on familiar rom-com territory, so when it suddenly morphs into a completely different film – a bracingly sophisticated one – you’ll want to cry with happiness. Only weeks after their relationship hits the skids, Emily falls ill with an unexplained illness and Kumail is called to the hospital to authorise a medically induced coma. Now come Emily’s scowling parents, who know all too well about their daughter’s heartbreak, administered by this stranger who won't leave her bedside. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are the film’s secret weapons, both of them uncorking magnificently real performances flecked with resentment, nervousness and, ultimately, acceptance.
The film is saying something both obvious and wise: when you want someone, you often have to woo their parents. But more subtly, 'The Big Sick' implies that if the love is real, the wooing can happen even when you’re lying unconscious on the brink of death. Director Michael Showalter does a beautiful job of relating Nanjiani and Romano’s similar slump – you smile at what a perfect almost-father and son they already are. It ends up being so much more than a Judd Apatow film.