Based on the story of his real-life courtship with his wife (with whom he co-wrote the script), The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani as a fictionalized version of his former self- a Pakistani twenty-something who’s attempting to reconcile his competing desires. He’s in love with Emily, a white girl he meets after his comedy show- though he’s aware that marrying a white girl will drive his family to excommunicate him. He’s passionate about comedy, yet assures his parents he’ll get around to studying for the LSAT’s. He’s against arranged marriage, but he allows his parents to invite an endless parade of eligible Pakistani women into their home for his consideration. Emily soon realizes that Kumail isn’t willing to risk being shut out from his family to be with her and breaks up with him. Not long after, Emily contracts a mysterious illness and is put into a medically induced coma. Rushing to her side are her parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, with whom Kumail bonds with after the initial awkwardness wears off.
I felt that Nanjiani’s performance lacked any kind of interiority. His good-natured jesting and neutrality convey so little about his attitude towards the melodramatic events that are shaking up his personal life. His ex-girlfriend falls into a coma, he makes a joke. His parents set him up with yet another Pakistani girl, he makes a joke. His ex-girlfriend’s parents give him the cold shoulder, he makes a joke (It doesn't help that Showalter’s purely functional direction isn’t any more expressive). One could make a case that Kumail’s penchant for humor is his means of sidestepping pain or discomfort, but I found Nanjiani’s one-note comic rhythms too straightforward and bland to convey anything of the sort, with few exceptions. He’s best when he’s playing off Hunter and Romano who elevate their supporting roles to main attractions. And the script delves more deeply into the messiness of their marriage than I was expecting it to, particularly during a short public argument which has a vulnerable, brittle feel to it that’s sorely lacking from this film about a tragedy.
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