Sundance Film Review: The Big Sick (dir by Michael Showalter)


The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 2017’s The Big Sick.

Until the very end, I had hope.

I really and truly believed that The Big Sick, a charming comedy that premiered at Sundance last year and which was one of the best reviewed films of the summer, would manage to pick up an Oscar nod for best picture.  I was actually expecting it would get three nominations, best picture, best original screenplay, and best supporting actress for Holly Hunter.  I knew that the film wasn’t really flashy enough to pick up a best director nomination for Michael Showalter.  And I knew that, despite giving a really good performance, Ray Romano would probably not be nominated for best supporting actor because … well, because he’s Ray Romano and he’ll always be thought of as being primarily a sitcom actor.

It’s true that, as a romantic comedy, The Big Sick would not have been a “traditional” nominee.  But, honestly, the Oscars haven’t been traditional for a while.  If the Oscars were still traditional, Mad Max: Fury Road would not have been nominated.  Not only was The Big Sick critically acclaimed but it’s story — about a Pakistani comedian getting to know his American girlfriend’s parents — seemed tailor-made for the current cultural moment.  The film got some attention during the precursor season, mostly for Holly Hunter.  It picked up a best ensemble nomination from SAG.  The AFI and the PGA both named it one of the best of the year.

But then, this morning, the Oscar nominations were announced.  The Big Sick was nominated for best original screenplay and that was it.  Not even Holly Hunter was nominated.  And again, I don’t buy the whole “it wasn’t a traditional Oscar film” argument.  Neither was Get Out.  I would happily trade The Post for The Big Sick.

In The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani plays a version of himself.  Zoe Kazan plays Emily Gardner, a version of Nanjiani’s wife, Emily V. Gordon.  (Nanjiani and Gordon wrote the screenplay, which is based on their life.)  Kumail is a stand-up comedian in Chicago.  His parents are devout Muslims and want Kumail to marry a Pakistani girl.  Kumail isn’t sure what he believes and is more comfortable watching Night of the Living Dead than praying.  The first half of the film deals with Kumail and Emily’s relationship and they’re an adorable couple.  You really do what them to stay together.  Unfortunately, they don’t.  When Emily discovers that Kumail hasn’t told his parents about her and that he isn’t sure their relationship can survive their cultural differences, Emily breaks up with him.

A few weeks later, Kumail learns that Emily is in the hospital.  She’s in a medically induced coma, with an infection creeping towards her heart.  Kumail goes to the hospital, where he meets Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano).  It’s awkward, at first.  But as they wait for word from the doctor, it becomes obvious that all three of them have at least one thing in common.  They all love Emily and want her to wake up.

The Big Sick is a sweet-natured comedy about love, dating, culture clashes, and health care.  It’s a pleasant and heartfelt film.  There’s only one negative character in the entire film, a heckler who interrupts Kumail during his act and who, in one of the film’s best scenes, get a verbal beatdown from Beth.  Perhaps if the film had a little more melodrama, it would have picked up that best picture nomination.  But it wouldn’t have been as good a movie.

The Big Sick works because it rings true.  You care about Kumail and Emily and, as the film progresses, you care about Terry and Beth as well.  All four of the lead actors — Nanjiani, Kazan, Hunter, and Romano — gives excellent performances and, with the help of a genuinely witty script, create truly unforgettable characters.  It’s a sweet movie and it’ll probably be remembered longer than some of the film that were nominated in its place.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice

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