Monday, July 17, 2017

The Big Sick: The Resurgence Of The Smart Rom-Com

Thanks mostly to the Marvel/DC/Superhero/sequel/prequel/spinoff/etc. state of movies right now, there has been a damn near elimination of romantic comedies. Not that long ago, Judd Apatow and crew lept onto the scene and showed us that romantic comedies don't need to be Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson only affairs. Rom-coms can be raunchy as well as heartfelt and sweet. Movies like Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Wedding Crashers, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. gave us fresh voices and movies that were equally romantic and hilariously funny. Yet, can you remember the last time you went to the movies to see a rom-com? Silver Linings Playbook maybe? Thankfully, Judd Apatow hasn't given up on the genre and in a time when rom-coms aren't in high (or any) demand, he's one of the few directors/producers who can squeeze one through. I love little movies like The Big Sick in the middle of the summer. It gives us a nice break from the big-budget popcorn movies saturating the theaters. The Big Sick is a wonderful little film to give you that nice breath of fresh air in the midst of a loud and explosive summer.

Silicon Valley regular Kumail Nanjiani plays, well, himself in this autobiographical tale of how he met his now wife, Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). Kumail is a Pakistani man in the world of amateur comedy. He spends his nights performing at a small club with a group of friends and then on the weekends going to his parents' house on the weekend for dinner and to be introduced to a new Pakistani woman for him to marry. Unbeknownst to the family, Kumail doesn't practice his religion as they expect him to. When they send him down to the garage to pray over dessert, he sets a timer on his phone for five minutes and watches YouTube videos. He's also not into the whole "arranged marriage" thing, but cannot admit this to his family for fear of excommunication. Enter Emily. Kumail and Emily date off and on until she finds out about his lies to his family and the two break up. A few days later, Kumail receives notice that Emily is in the hospital with an infection that the doctors can't figure out what it is. She's put into a medically induced coma until they can figure it out. Kumail spends the rest of his time at the hospital with Emily's parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), bonding with them, realizing who he truly is inside, and falling back in love with Emily.

The reason the movie works so well to begin with is the chemistry between Kumail and Emily. Because it is based off of Nanjiani's actual relationship with his real-life wife, it feels authentic. There are no real clich├ęd rom-com tropes at work here. There are just two people having humorous conversation and falling in love a little bit at a time. I'd always said that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of the most authentic portrayals of a real-life relationship, well, chalk The Big Sick up there as well. What's also great is that it stays that way for the entirety of the film. There are no big moments of unrealistic professing-my-love grandstanding. They (I assume) don't take many liberties with the relationship outside of what (again, I assume) actually happened. The biggest conflict facing the couple is Kumail's family who are very strict Muslims and can not allow Kumail to marry someone outside his religion. The conflict between losing the love of his life and losing his family drives the movie and opens characters up to heartache and pain and love. It's heartwarming and very much endearing... along with just flat out hilarious.

The other relationship in the film that really works well is between Kumail and Emily's parents, especially with her mother. What begins as a very toxic relationship turns into something sweet and funny. Holly Hunter nails it as the tough mom hiding her vulnerabilities. One of the best scenes in the film is when Kumail is doing stand-up and a heckler calls him "ISIS" because people in this country and genuinely morons. Beth, without even liking Kumail, near-drunkenly tries to verbally, then physically, fight the idiot. Then, there's Kumail and Terry's interactions. This is where a majority of the comedy comes from (though the scenes involving the stand up world are quite humorous too), but Kumail, who is still relatively new to comedy and Romano, a comedy veteran, steal scenes displaying their similar comedic observation stylings that the pair actually wind up being a very good match. They're both the quiet, awkward, yet hilarious comedians just trying to make it in their own respective worlds. It's through all of these relationships that makes the movie great.

The Big Sick is one of those movies that reminds us that there is entertainment and art and writing and acting and films out there that don't need to be based off of any previous source material (other than maybe, perhaps, a personal happening) to hold our interest. I'm astonished (and proud) that this film made it all the way into theaters nationwide. Nanjiani doesn't have that leading man power just yet (though he shows he has the ability) and no one in the movie is really "big enough" to draw a crowd. But, due to word of mouth, and the fact that it is a great film, we now have the opportunity to see it without having to wait for blu ray. July has provided us moviegoers with a string of great films lately, but this is one of the top films. It's a small movie that's earned its spot on the marquee, and anyone with any real heart or sense of humor will thoroughly enjoy it. It's time we make some more room at the theater for more movies just like this one.


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