THE BIG SICK

July 20, 2017

LOVE TRUMPS ALL

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

 

  It’s 9:30 on a Friday night—prime time for movie-going fans. My wife and I are at Lycoming Mall’s Regal Cinema for “The Big Sick,” one of the best-reviewed movies of the year.

  There are exactly five people in the audience.

  For folks who wonder why so many great films never play in Williamsport, here’s a chance to put your money where your movie is by resolving to see this terrific true story about cross-cultural romance.

  Zoe Kazan plays Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in the tale of a Caucasian woman and a Middle Eastern man who battle their way toward commitment through several obstacles—the chief of which is Kumail’s Pakistani parents, who insist on marriage to a Muslim woman.

  Other obstacles include the fact that he hasn’t told Emily about them—or vice versa. (In fact, he is a familial coward who’s never cut the umbilical.) Plus, Emily carries substantial baggage from past relationships. And Kumail has a budding career in stand-up comedy, which is tough to pull off in an emotional crisis.

  And then there’s Emily’s sudden illness, which puts her in a coma.

  Since we know that the pair eventually triumphed—going on to co-write the script for this film—“The Big Sick” is hardly a tragedy; but calling it a rom-com, as many critics have, sells short the surging heartbreak that courses through so many brilliant scenes.

  Though not an especially hilarious comic, Nanjiani excels as a man who slowly realizes what he’s about to lose, and who must stand up to his family—even to the point of refusing to let his parents disown him. Kazan is sensational—plucky and independent yet also vulnerable; it’s easy to see why Kumail loves her.

  The film is buoyed by a host of fine supporting performances, headlined by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Hunter displays her usual mastery of almost any role (you can hardly believe this is the same woman who starred in “The Piano”); as for Romano: I know him only from TV’s “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but he has done more serious roles—and here he really helps ground the film as another man who suddenly learns what his partner means to him. And Anupam Kher—so memorable as the football-loving doctor in “Silver Linings Playbook” —is likewise strong as Kumail’s father, yet another figure coming to terms with what he might lose.

  Having just watched last year’s similarly cross-cultural “United Kingdom,” I’m forced to conclude that our society now believes romantic love officially trumps every other loyalty in life. While I’m not sure I agree, “The Big Sick” makes a convincing case that commitment to someone different from yourself—child, lover or wayward spouse—is a potent force for healing and peace.

  Hard to argue with that.

 

“The Big Sick,”

directed by Michael Showalter

Run time: 120 min.

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

Rated R for language, including some sexual references

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