by Justin Stewart Film Horizon Line

The Big Sick | Michael Showalter

July 14, 2017

The stateside media-consuming public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for standup comedy product (The Comedian, Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here, infinite podcasts) is the target audience of The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s autobiographical dramatization of their own courtship. (He’s an aspiring Chicago standup, she’s a student.) Judd Apatow co-produced—the man who’s already given us Funny People and HBO’s Crashing (featuring Nanjiani’s buddy Pete Holmes). Sick earns a spot in a crowded field because, most importantly, it’s very funny.

It can also be quite touching: Emily (Zoe Kazan) is stricken with an HIV-level-serious illness and put in a lengthy, medically induced coma. A great 9/11 joke encapsulates this film’s basic goal of mining trauma for laughs. But it can also border on the over-adorable at times, which is disappointing coming from director Michael Showalter, whose past works have often sought to excoriate the tropes of comedic cinema. The road-tested presence of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents save the heavier dramatic scenes, which are outside of Nanjiani’s wheelhouse. And the portrayal of Pakistani American arranged marriages is refreshingly frank and rare, showing the collateral damage of rejected potential wives and strained or severed family bonds. 

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2017 | Dispatch 2.