Saturday, March 3, 2018

Stubs - The Big Sick

The Big Sick (2017) Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher. Directed by Michael Showalter. Screenplay by Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani. Produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel. Run Time: 117 minutes. USA Color Romantic Comedy

Probably best known for his work on the HBO series Silicon Valley, Kumail Nanjiani, like most actors/comedians, has a had a life and career before he became well-known. In this case, he and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, both do and have written their story in screenplay form which was made into The Big Sick.

Kumail introduces himself to Emily (Zoe Kazan) after his show.

When the film opens, Kumail, who plays himself, is a stand-up comic in Chicago, who also works as an Uber driver to make ends meet. In the audience one night is Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan), who unwillingly heckles him when she was trying to be supportive. Emily is a college student studying to be a therapist. The two of them end up having a one-night stand that leads into a relationship.

Emily and Kumail become a couple.

Kumail’s family wants him to marry a Pakistani woman and his mom sets up a series of meet and greets with women willing to be part of an arranged marriage. They each give him photographs which he dutifully stores in a cigar box in the apartment he shares with another less-talented comedian, Chris (Kurt Braunohler). When Emily finds the photos, Kumail is forced to admit that he can’t bring himself to tell his parents about her, knowing that they would disown him if he did. As a result, she breaks it off with him. He decides to turn his attention towards his career and becomes a finalist for the Montreal Comedy Festival.

Kumail's parents, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) and Azmat
 (Anupam Kher), want him to marry a Pakistani girl.

But no sooner had they broken up, then Emily comes down with a fever and is hospitalized. When there is no one else available to stay with her, one of Emily’s friends calls Kumail. Emily is not happy to see him, but Kumail takes responsibility for her and even signs consent as her husband so that the hospital can put her into a medically induced coma.

After he calls them, Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), arrive from North Carolina and initially take over the care of their daughter. Beth, who knows about their relationship, is cold at first, but they both take a liking to him. They end up attending one of his stand up shows and Beth even takes umbrage with a heckler in the audience and has to be expelled from the club.

Emily’s illness only gets worse and the doctors don’t seem to know what the problem is with her.  Fearing that Emily is near death, Kumail blows his audition for Montreal. He also finally comes clean with his parents about his love for Emily and they do, in fact, disown him.

Emily's parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano),
let Kumail take a part in Emily's treatment.

Emily’s parents come to think of Kumail as co-caregiver and respect his concern for their daughter. The doctors are finally able to diagnose her illness as Stills Disease and she recovers. When she recovers, Kumail is invited into her room but Emily asks him to leave. Kumail accepts her decision and accepts an offer from two fellow comedians, CJ (Bo Burnham) and Mary (Aidy Bryant), to move to New York.

Stand-ups CJ (Bo Burnham) and Mary (Aidy Bryant) invite Kumail to
come with them to New York.

Once Emily is home, her parents throw a party for her and invite Kumail to attend. He uses the opportunity to show his love for Emily, including showing her the ashes of all the photos of the women his mother tried to set him up with. But Emily is unmoved and asks him to leave.

Before leaving town, Kumail performs in his one-man show about Pakistan, its culture, and cricket. That night, Emily watches a YouTube presentation of Kumail’s failed stand-up audition. She makes a surprise trip out of her apartment and goes to Kumail’s show just after it has ended. He’s there talking with his only remaining link to his family, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar).

Emily seems on the verge of wanting to get back together with Kumail when he tells her that he’s leaving for New York.

As they are loading the car for New York, Kumail’s parents come to see him off, though his mother won’t get out of the car or look at him.

In New York, Kumail is once again doing his stand-up routine when he is again heckled by an audience member, Emily, who has come to see him. The film ends with actual photos of Kumail and Emily.

There are some obvious comparisons to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), another romantic comedy about a stand-up comedian, but while Allen’s film is only somewhat based on real life, The Big Sick is, for the most part, based on the events that brought Kumail and Emily together.

Though I am not an expert on their personal lives, there were some subtle changes made for the sake of the film, like Emily’s rejection of Kumail. One has to imagine though that if his family was as devoted Muslims as depicted in the film that there was some tension when he decided to marry a white American woman, rather than a woman of their choosing.

While Kumail plays himself, he does present a very likable man trying to find his way in a somewhat strange culture. He questions his religious beliefs and his place in Pakistani-American society.

The supporting cast is also very good. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano both give strong performances as Emily’s parents. Hunter always seems to bring her “A” game and this is no exception. While I enjoyed Romano in his sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, he is sometimes uneven in other roles. Here he’s good. A lot of Zoe Kazan’s role as Emily is spent in a coma, which is too bad. For the most part, she’s an interesting actress. She’s someone I think I’ve seen before, but I honestly don’t know where I would have.

Kumail’s family, his parents Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), Azmat (Anupam Kher) and his brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) are portrayed by some pretty good actors who may not get a lot of attention. That is not to say they are not accomplished actors, Kher as an example has appeared in 500 films, though only a handful have been in English. Akhtar has also recently appeared in Victoria & Abdul (2017) and is a regular on the TV series Ghosted.

Aidy Bryant (Mary), Bo Burnham (CJ) and Kurt Braunohler (Chris) play other stand-up comics and friends of Kumail. Obviously, all three rely on their own experiences on the stand-up circuit for their portrayals in The Big Sick. Bryant is perhaps the best known, considering she’s a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Some of the funniest dialogue comes from their sniping of other comedians.

As an example:

Kumail: [talking about Chris] He's like if a serial killer fucked an inspirational speaker.

CJ: He's like Daniel Day-Lewis except he sucks.

The Big Sick was released on June 23, 2017, and made over $55 million at the Box office and was a big success given its production budget of $5 million. Given its low budget there are certain aspects that have to be overlooked, like the fact all the cars that are supposed to be in Chicago have New York license plates and inspection stickers.

There is one mistake that seems like a real head-scratcher since it could so easily have been checked. It only jumped out at me because of my personal knowledge of the particular film library in question. Kumail sits Emily down to show her a B-rated horror film, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, telling her that it was made in 1969 by MGM, which had fallen on hard times and had turned to its best box-office attraction, Vincent Price. While MGM now does own the film, through its acquisition of the Orion film library, it was made in 1971 by American International Pictures (AIP). Given Amazon’s involvement in the film, you wonder why they didn’t consult its own subsidiary IMDb to verify the facts. But this is nitpicking.

The Big Sick is a very funny, well-made romantic comedy. While the acting is good, the film’s strength seems to be its screenplay. That aspect of the film has been nominated for numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Very deserving of the attention, the screenplay gives a new twist to the standard Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back love story that is about as old as Hollywood.

Screenwriters and real-life husband and wife Emily V. Gordon and
Kumail Nanjiani.

I would highly recommend The Big Sick. A good date-night film, this is one that can be enjoyed over and over again. A real tour de force that makes one anxious to see what Kumail and Emily will come up with next.

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