The Big Sick, B+
Rated R, 124 minutes
"The Big Sick" is the big sleeper. Hilarious, touching and a tad overlong, the new film starring and written by comedian and "Silicon Valley" actor Kumail Nanjiani, based on his life, is one of the year's most memorable breakout turns.
Kumail (Nanjiani) is a Pakistani comic who meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan of "Olive Kittridge") at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. When Emily is suddenly stricken with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother and father (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).
The heartfelt and genuinely funny "The Big Sick" is directed by "Hello, My Name is Doris'" Michael Showalter and is co-written by Nanjiani and his wife, actress and writer Emily V. Gordon, and the film is based on actual events from their relationship. In Nanjiani's favor: he's truly funny, and it helps knowing Judd Apatow, who co-produced the film, who does here for Nanjiani what he did for comedian Amy Schumer two years ago in the amusing "Trainwreck," in helping provide a big break for mainstream audiences to catch a glimpse of Nanjiani, and for that we're thankful.
"The Big Sick" incorporates several types of films into one: the romantic comedy, an illness movie, and one that explores the culture clash of someone - yes, an immigrant - who wants to do his own thing. All three work well, though the culture clash is its most relevant and poignant as it explores a multitude of issues: marriage, family and adjusting to a new life. The dramedy, courtesy of Nanjiani, has some of the best lines, usually delivered by Nanjiani in his deadpan, nonchalant tone ("we hate terrorists!" he proclaims to onlookers after a loud discussion with his brother in a restaurant).
The film is nearly stolen by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, as Emily's concerned yet delightful parents, when they arrive on the scene to care for her, and they and Kumail bond as their daughter and girlfriend languish in a coma. As warm and funny as Nanjiani and Kazan are in the opening chapters, Romano and especially Hunter brim with honesty and charm as they eventually grow to like each other, and it wouldn't surprise to see Hunter again nominated for an Oscar for her part.
Unfortunately, as Schumer's "Trainwreck" did, the middle act in "The Big Sick" is about 15 minutes too long, and it veers off into too many characters and subplots, including some with Kumail's friends that could've easily been excised to tighten up the story. As long as "The Big Sick" stays focused on the sick and Kumail's cultural issues, it works best; his last major conversation with his family is one of its most touching, and will have you reaching for some tissues.
The satisfying, affecting "The Big Sick" is one of the summer's best films so far and is a must-see for those needing a nice alternative to big-budget action and superhero films.