Published Jul 06, 2017Like talking about the weather, asking a couple how they met is an innocuous question intended to create easy patter in a social setting, but few people actually have a story worth telling. In the case of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his real-life wife Emily Gordon, however, the origin story was so good that Judd Apatow needed to turn it into a feature-length film.
Though Nanjiani plays himself, the film recasts Zoe Kazan in place of Gordon. The two play a couple who instantly hit it off, though Kumail is reluctant to pursue the relationship due to the cultural expectations of his Muslim, Pakistani family. Instead of introducing his girlfriend to his parents, he continuously fends off dozens of arranged marriage prospects that are forced on him by his mother.
Kumail's understandable reluctance creates tension with Emily, and the two decide to call it off. Immediately afterward, she's hospitalized with an aggressive infection. Kumail's the only one available to visit her at the hospital, where she's placed into an induced coma.
While Emily is under, Kumail routinely visits the hospital, where he eventually wins over her parents (expertly played by Holly Hunter and human dad joke Ray Romano). The situation causes Kumail to realize just how much he loves Gordon, especially when the stress of the situation wreaks havoc on his standup comedy career.
The comedy club scenes occasionally feel a little too familiar — like leftovers from Apatow's Funny People — but it's still a pleasure to watch Kumail banter with Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham and a particularly dorky Kurt Braunohler. Outside of the comedy nerd delights, Kumail's family is downright hilarious in their attempts to ostracize their rebellious son.
A great deal of credit also belongs to Michael Showalter, who perfectly maintains the film's delicate balance. Hard laughs compound with the gravity of the medical situation, and Nanjiani's familial heritage is treated with respect. Perhaps most importantly, Emily's story is treated with care — she's not just a damsel in distress awaiting her lover. The film looks (and often feels) like a standard romantic comedy, but the familiar beats only help to highlight the story's uniqueness.
There are times when the film falls into the Apatow habit of feeling a little long — at 119 minutes, there are multiple times where it feels like things could've wrapped a little quicker — but a story this fascinating (and not, as per This Is 40, about white male ennui) never overstays its welcome. Uplifting and personal, The Big Sick is a massive success. (Elevation Pictures)