2017 has, thus far, not been a great year for big screen comedies. Obviously, films like Get Out, Baby Driver, and the two MCU entries so far have been funny, but in terms of high-profile, straight-up comedy, we’ve had Lego Batman (good), The House (bad), and Baywatch (atrocious). So it’s understandable that the release of The Big Sick was greeted with such excited fanfare. It’s sweet, warmly funny, and tells an interesting story from an uncommon perspective. Yet, unfortunately, it is not the game-changing comedy that it was hyped up as, very likable indeed, but lacking in the consistent laughs that made films like Sing Street and The Nice Guys last year such unadulterated joys.
Kumail Nanjiani writes and stars as himself in this autobiographical tale of how he met and fell in love with his wife, Emily V Gordon (who co-wrote the script and is played here by Zoe Kazan). They meet at one of Kumail’s stand-up gigs, and things go incredibly well until Kumail’s family life gets in the way. With his Pakistani origins, Kumail’s family want him to stick to tradition and settle for an arranged marriage, a fact he keeps secret from Emily, in turn keeping Emily secret from his family.
After this deception is revealed, Kumail and Emily break up, but a sudden and extreme lung infection leaves Emily in a medically-induced coma that Kumail has to sign off on. Naturally, this makes for an awkward first meeting with Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). At the heart of The Big Sick, rather than a conventional romance, is in fact the growing friendship and trust between Kumail and Emily’s parents, a lovely bonding process in sharp contrast to the angry traditionalism of Kumail’s biological family. Nanjiani proves that he can hold his own as a leading man, and Kazan is great when she’s awake, but it’s Hunter and Romano who own the film whenever they’re on screen.
They get most of the big laughs, and put their confident gravitas to good use in any given scene, comedic or dramatic. Elsewhere, Bo Burnham and Adeel Akhtar (playing Kumail’s most successful stand up friend and brother, respectively) are consistently fun to have around and raise everyone else’s game when they’re at their best. But, honestly, the laughs are a little too few and far between, and in trying to find a balance between comedy and drama, there’s not quite enough of either.
A lot of the best jokes are in the trailer, and while it is a funny film, with a couple of proper guffaw moments, it’s no more joke-packed than, say, Spider-Man Homecoming or Free Fire, which, for a full-on comedy, isn’t quite good enough. Given that director Michael Showalter is the key creative force in the utterly hilarious Wet Hot American Summer film and TV series, I expected more streamlined comedy from a film with him at the helm. Also, as is to be expected in a Judd Apatow production, The Big Sick, at two hours, is too long, though never tiresome.
There are a lot of complaints above, but by no means is The Big Sick anything other than an enjoyable movie. It’s extremely likable, with a cast of fun, multifaceted characters, but it just never really approaches the huge comedic or emotional heights that the early Sundance hype promised. As rom-coms go, it’s an above-average example of the genre, bolstered by the fact that its bizarre romance is entirely true, and its insider’s look at traditional Muslim family life in the US makes it both unique and important. Seek it out without the overly high expectations I went in with, and you’re bound to have a good time.