The Big Sick
Bruce Steele: I’ve been trying to think up better titles for the appealing dramedy The Big Sick, and I keep coming back to Meet the Parents. I found the romance, between Pakistani-American comic Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and blondish grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan), not nearly as engaging as Kumail’s interactions with two sets of parents.
Edwin Arnaudin: Same here. It’s as if the Millennials’ relationship is just an excuse to loop in his folks — traditional Muslims Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) and Azmat (Anupam Kher) — as well as Emily's mom Beth (Holly Hunter) and dad Terry (Ray Romano). The romance is sufficiently charming and occasionally more so, but there’s more meat in the intergenerational conflicts.
Bruce: At the risk of sounding like the film geek I am, The Big Sick reminded me of the underrated and underseen romance 5 to 7 (2014), in which Anton Yelchin’s disapproving parents are played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella. They were such a joy, I wanted more of them. The Big Sick fills that longing with another pair of veteran performers. I’d vote Romano the movie’s Most Valuable Player.
Edwin: It’s been a pleasure watching him develop as an actor on TV’s Parenthood and Vinyl. His work here is in a similar seriocomic zone, but with more room for cracking jokes — and I hope it leads to more film opportunities for him.
Bruce: I’d be up for that. He’s really charming and naturally funny, with no whiff of sitcom archness. It’s also nice to see Hunter back in a rich and feisty role. Her confrontation in a comedy club perks up the movie when it was threatening to flag. But we’re ignoring the leads. What did you think of star and co-author Nanjiani?
Edwin: I’m a big fan of his thanks to HBO’s Silicon Valley and think he transitions well from scene-stealer to lead actor — though there’s certainly room for improvement, especially in crafting a commanding presence (even within a largely reserved character). The more experienced Kazan exudes a far greater degree of comfort and charm. In Kumail’s shoes, I’d fall for her Emily, too. Do you buy them as a couple?
Bruce: I believed them as a couple and was pulling for them by the end, although their mutual attraction was a mystery. Was it the lure of the different? That question doesn’t always have an answer in real life, on which this movie is based — Nanjiani’s wife is the actual Emily — so maybe I shouldn’t nitpick. I agree Kazan is charming, and she does a lot with not a lot of screen time. I was not so impressed with Kumail’s struggling-comic peer group. They just weren’t very funny.
Edwin: Yeah, neither Mary (Aidy Bryant) nor CJ (Bo Burnham) did much for me on stage, though I found the latter quick-witted in the insult department — especially when Kumail’s dim-witted, hilarious-off-stage roommate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) is the target. Speaking of comedy, I’m also curious what you thought about the film’s balance of laughs and some pretty serious drama once Emily lands in a hospital.
Bruce: I thought the movie was more a light drama with some funny moments than a sustained comedy. The funniest stuff (cue Ray Romano) emerges from character interactions, not from the comedy routines, and it generates a real, sustained emotional response once it settles into the titular “Big Sick,” which continues to the end. I left happy I’d seen it. I’d give it a B-plus.
Edwin: I find the mix promising but, as with Nanjiani’s leading man potential, in need of some fine-tuning. I encountered a lot of “should I laugh here or not?” moments and think first-time screenwriters Nanjiani and “Real Emily” Gordon could have perfected their true story’s emotional blend with more outside guidance. Producer Judd Apatow, who was instrumental in encouraging the duo to write this screenplay, isn’t quite enough — at least as far as vaulting it to modern classic status. For now, I’ll call it a must-see and look forward to seeing how it ages. B-plus here, too.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre.
Join the Asheville Movie Guys for a screening of The Big Sick at the Fine Arts Theatre on Monday, July 17, at 7 p.m. Bruce and Edwin will offer a brief introduction of the film and everyone is welcome to stay after the credits for a discussion. More info here.
(Photos: Amazon Studios)