365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

5Jan/180

The Big Sick (2017)

I was all set to review this movie and talk about, what I considered to be, its major flaw before I did one thing first...I looked at other reviews and learned that this film is based on a true story. So rather than belabor the point I wanted to make, I'll simply reference it a little later in the review and talk more about its merits and more minor flaws. Before I begin, I'll mention that I didn't think Michael Showalter's (Hello, My Name is Doris) The Big Sick was marketed all that well when it was released over the summer. First of all, the title of the movie, its poster, its actors, and even its plot just didn't make sense. Through in that Judd Apatow's name was attached to it and you had the thought that this was a raunchy comedy, much in the mold of Trainwreck, This Is 40, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and a host of other movies he didn't even direct but was affiliated with as a producer or screenwriter. The Big Sick felt out of place from the start. It took word of mouth for this movie really to get noticed and appreciated by audiences (despite its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). If anything, moviegoers were told that this movie was more like This Is 40 than any of Apatow's other films, but even that film received more leeway because it was a sequel to Knocked Up, which was as foul-mouthed as they come. It didn't help that The Big Sick had a cast of relative unknowns. Sure it had Ray Romano (television's Everybody Loves Raymond, television's Parenthood) and Holly Hunter (The Piano, The Firm), but these two, while having a decent amount of screentime, clearly supported the two leads. Kumail Nanjiani (HBO's Silicon Valley, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), a relatively unknown at the time, penned and stared in this film as himself. It was a calculated risk that clearly paid off in the end. Another relative unknown, Zoe Katan (Revolutionary Road, The Savages), stars opposite Nanjiani as his on again/off again girlfriend Emily. They work as a couple and the trials and tribulations experienced by each aren't completely far-fetched. Heck, it's based on a true story so some might say they aren't far-fetched at all. This movie surprised me with how much I enjoyed it and how engaged I was with it, despite its unevenness (at times) and that its conclusion could be seen by all miles away.

Kumail is a stand-up comedian, performing (sometimes slightly odd acts) with fellow comedians in front of audiences that are considerably smaller than what he envisions in his dreams. To supplement the income that earns with his nightly performances, he works as an Uber driver during the day. He slums it in a tiny apartment that would make the makeshift apartment that you probably lived in during college look like a palace. His bed is an air mattress. I believe his television is a 19" tube. He shares his place with the needy Chris (Kurt Braunohler), a fellow comic who makes Kumail look like Kevin Hart. Kumail knows that this cannot be his life forever. He knows he needs to strike it big with his comedy gig or move onto something else. Not helping the situation is his Pakistani parents, who have dreams of him becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. A career as a comic is slightly higher on their list than a truckstop nightshift bathroom janitor.

But his career isn't Kumail's biggest problem. His biggest problem also involves pressure from his old school parents who are resolute in their cultural beliefs. Kumail is to marry a Pakistani woman through an arranged marriage. Now the arranged marriage component probably isn't exactly what you might be envisioning. It's not like there is an agreement between, say a family living in America and one living in Pakistan and Kumail is forced to marry the daughter of the family living in Pakistan without ever having met her. He definitely has some free will here, though he is constantly being barraged with beautiful 20-something available women who just "happen to show up at the house at dinnertime with their parents". It's actually quite humerous watching Kumail's mother try to play it off each time with her "what a pleasant surprise" responses, even though the entire thing has been orchestrated. These potential partners come in knowing all about Kumail, even versing themselves on The X-Files, his favorite television show of all time. But immediate marriage isn't in Kumail's future, nor is marrying someone who he isn't in love with.

Enter Emily, a cute, intelligent, and loving 20-something white woman who unknowingly heckled him during one of his sets, even though she thought she was encouraging him. The couple's courtship begins in a public forum with Kumail flirting with her and telling her that any interruption to a comic's set is seen as a jeer. She teases back, playing the innocent card. The two connect at the end of his performance and get to know each other. While they have immediate chemistry from the start, I'm not sold on everything. I'm not saying that people don't have sex on the first date or hook up after meeting someone at a dance club, but I just couldn't believe that these two characters would have sex within hours of meeting each other. Perhaps it was because how we got to know them from that point forward, but there was something that just felt out of place. I wouldn't call either Kumail or Zoe Katan unattractive. Both have a certain charisma and cuteness to them that make you wish they could be your friends, but I don't think I'd call either sexy. Sure there is a certain sexiness to being dorky or quirky, but Kumail is portrayed as kind of a player who, seemingly, can get any woman that he wants (whether it be Asian, Caucasian, or any other ethnicity) whenever he wants and it was hard to picture this geek being portrayed as something more. Likewise, Emily was depicted as a woman with a deep and loving heart and it didn't seem overly realistic to me that she would make herself so vulnerable that she might put herself in a position of a one-night stand. Again, this is a small point that I would kill to death if it wasn't based on a true story. But since The Big Sick is based on a true story, I won't dwell on this point any further.

In fact, it was after their initial meeting, that I really got hooked on the story. While Emily was willing to lay all of her cards on the table for Kumail to see, he not only held back, but some would say (including me) that he deceived her. While she was enthusiastically telling her family about Kumail, he didn't even tell his family about Emily, knowing he would be ostracized from the family if he would marry someone outside of the Muslim religion. That certainly makes you feel more for Emily and less for Kumail. Sure, he's interested in Emily romantically, sexually, and as someone that he truly enjoys being around, but he continually shows that she is not an exception. He enjoys the company of women in general. So is Kumail the antagonist in this story? Not outright, but it certainly isn't Emily.

At this point in the family (it's still early), they have broken up. He is awoken in the middle of the night by one of Emily's friends, saying that she is so sick that she has been admitted to a local hospital. Fast forward a little bit and through a little luck, randomness, or even shut up and play stupid, Kumail signs some papers (pretending to be Emily's husband) that agrees to put her in a much needed medically induced coma so a team of specialists can figure out what to do with her. The remainder of the movie involves Kumail spending his time between work, family, and the hospital where he bonds with Emily's mother Beth (Hunter) and father Terry (Romano) as news of Emily's signs of progress and setbacks bring the trio together in an unlikely way. It's pretty easy from minutes after the three are introduced that we know how this movie is going to end. But that doesn't take away from its genuineness. It has the right amounts of appropriate humor even in its somber moments and we learn quite a bit about Kumail, Beth, and Terry. And we learn even more about Emily who is lying unconscious in a bed for two-thirds of the movie. It is heartfelt and tender and clearly brings a new dimension to movies associated with Apatow (which is great for him and for us by the way).

It's hard not recommend this movie. It's 82.5% score is a little lower than my legitimate fondness for it. There's something that just about anybody could enjoy from watching this movie.

Plot 8/10 (though this movie works well for me, it's still hard to fathom an entire feature-length movie coming from this story, complete with its predictability, rehearsed lines, and purposefully planted sass...yet it does...)
Character Development 8.5/10
Character Chemistry 8.5/10
Acting 8.5/10
Screenplay 8.5/10
Directing 8/10
Cinematography 7/10
Sound 7/10
Hook and Reel 9.5/10 (I found myself hardly paying attention to the first 20 minutes, but then something changed and I was immersed in the story...so much so that when the movie ended, I went back and watched those first 20 minutes over again)
Universal Relevance 9/10 (a person experiencing a near-death experience does bring people together and also brings out the best in some people while others falter and ultimately disappear)
82.5%

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