‘The Big Sick’ Review: Kumaii Nanjiani’s Romantic Comedy Is Filled With Real Performances

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source: Elevation Pictures

Kumaii Nanjiani’s love story is real in every way possible 

After Nicholas Sparks and Adam Sandler, romance and comedy movies were never the same. What was once highly respected genres quickly became parodies of themselves recycling the same old tropes. However, what both person horrifically injected in the genre were a sense of artificiality. The story they were telling were situations that happen only in movies and would never in real life. The Big Sick is the very reaction to this trend. Michael Showalter’s latest comedy brings back a sense of realness and much-needed diversity to both genres even when the product suffers during the third act.

Based on a true story, The Big Sick retraces Kumaii Nanjiani’s search for love. On the one hand, his traditional Muslim family wants an arranged marriage for their son. On the other hand, Kumaii has already found the love of his life in Emily (Zoe Kazan). When a terrible illness puts Emily in a medically induced coma, he is forced to bring out all his secrets including coming closer to Emily’s parents.

When we’re introduced to Kumaii and Emily, there’s something real about the whole situation and their behavior. They act like normal human beings unaware that they are the starring people in a movie starring them. Nanjiani’s depiction of an X-Files fan and old horror movie lover is incredibly relatable. It’s often the little odd characteristics of the characters that give them a sense of realness. The film strays away from big crying scenes or big dramatic scenes that are only present to get Oscar buzz. Their performances can be seen as minimalist yet they are so charming that they are instantly likable. And of course, even Ray Romano and Holly Hunter fall in the same category as our main characters. Their charisma shines through, and their chemistry with Nanjiani is a blast to watch. It’s as if The Big Sick is pushing back on movie traditions.

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Kumaii Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan offer surprisingly unpretentious performances – source: Elevation Pictures

Towards the second act, there is a creative turn that we don’t see in traditional romantic comedies and it’s fun to watch. It’s here that we get to spend the most time with Romano and Hunter as they get to know Nanjiani. What starts off as an awkwardly funny interaction becomes heartfelt during the end. And again, it feels like real situations playing out before my eyes. A big part of the success comes from Nanjiani and Brown’s writing getting a chance to shine and the way the second act is constructed, it’s able showcases all of the movie’s strengths.

When the highly entertaining second act inches closer to the third act, The Big Sick is unable to compete with itself. The creative and fun second act feels like it set the bar too high for what will ultimately conclude the film. The third act isn’t as interesting or engaging and at times feeling like it will never end constantly pandering to its audience. Even here is where Nanjiani is forced to change from comedic to dramatic and that transformation seems lacking compared to his co-stars. He doesn’t look comfortable switching to a more serious tone, and it’s at the end that he does it more often.

However, you cannot overlook Nanjiani’s spot on comedic performance throughout the film. When he’s telling jokes, it’s where he is at his most comfortable. He quickly takes center stage and grasps his leading role. Also, it’s nice to see a Pakistani Muslim character as the leading role in an otherwise white-dominated genre. Adding diversity to film is a hot topic nowadays, and The Big Sick proves that it is in fact good. Nanjiani’s story and comedic talent help bring original ideas and cultural differences that can add originality to films.

The Big Sick can be looked at as the turning point for comedy and romance, two genres in need of a revival. While that may be true, this rom-com is but the beginning. Nanjiani’s pure performance and the unexpected second act helps this relevant love story through the tiring third act. Still, it is rather frustrating that the film couldn’t quite hold the same quality throughout but if anything, The Big Sick has given light to a talented young comedian with a bright future ahead.

GRADE: B

The Big Sick premiered at Sundance and is released on July 14. 

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