The Big Sick is the latest product of comedy factory de Apatow. Judd didn’t write or direct this film—those credits go to writers Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani and director Michael Showalter—but Apatow’s producing fingerprints are evident on this film that blends the personal with the fictional in a way that brings out greater truth in both. Perhaps we should credit Gordon, Nanjiani, and Showalter for their deftness in avoiding the “inexplicable plot complications” that frequently plague Apatow productions’ third acts. They threaten a few times but do not prevail on this otherwise intelligent narrative.
The Big Sick is the based-on-a-true-story romantic comedy about a young Pakistani man (Nanjiani) whose relationship with his white girlfriend, Emily, (a winning Zoe Kazan) hazards his relationship with his family who expects him to marry a Pakistani woman. It’s an already complicated cross-cultural romance pushed to the limits by a life or death situation when Emily becomes ill, prompting Kumail to spend time with her parents in the hospital while they wait for her to get better, hopefully. The Big Sick is tightly written and intelligent in the way it includes cross-cultural complications in the story without simplifying any of them.
It’s also wonderfully acted. Nanjiani and Kazan have delightful chemistry. Their relationship feels natural, not forced, and I found myself wanting to spend more time with them. Holly Hunter and ray Romano show up as Emily’s parents, and they’re perfect. I never thought I’d ever want to see more Ray Romano again, but he’s so unaffected here he’s charming. Holly Hunter is terrifying, but in the best possible way, as a mother would be in this situation. The script has them all opening up new layers at just the right moment throughout the film as well. Everyone feels real.
I’ve thought about The Big Sick often since I saw it at SXSW earlier this year. It maintains the kind of relaxed atmosphere that’s characteristic of Apatow and co’s production, but it never feels lazy or unintentional. The Big Sick feels like going to a party put on by a skilled host and hostess. You feel at ease because you know you’re being taken care of, so when the script moves into uncomfortable directions—like the best stand-up comedy—you’re wiling to go along with it. The mature (as in “complicated”) subject matter touched on throughout the film is handled nimbly. “Handling mature subjects nimbly” is praise we typically give to dramas. That isn’t the kind of thing one typically says about a comedy. But it’s to The Big Sick’s great credit that it is as good as any drama I’ve seen this year.
And that skill carries to the film’s conclusion as well. The Big Sick isn’t afraid of irresolution. It is honest about the challenges the characters face (primarily between Kumail and his parents) and optimistic that reconciliation is possible in the future of its characters as the maintain relationship with each other. The Big Sick is an excellent comedy – no, it’s an excellent film, no qualification needed. It’s the kind of film that deserves to show up on top ten lists at the end of the year.