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Starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Rebecca Naomi Jones. Directed by Michael Sowwalter. (2017, 120 min). LIONSGATE

The Big Sick is about defying tradition in more ways than one, and not quite the movie it was promoted as, which is ultimately a positive. After all, the last thing we need is yet-another rom-com with two seemingly incompatible lead characters. While this film has some of those elements, calling it a romantic comedy doesn't really do it justice.

I often review rom-coms with my wife, who truly loves genre (and its inherent predictability), and this isn't what she was expecting. The Big Sick is indeed very funny on occasion, as is the obligatory meet-cute between Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself) and Emily (Zoe Kazan). He's a struggling stand-up comedian from a Pakistani family, while she's studying to be a therapist. For the first third of the story, Kumail is torn between the expectations of his family - their tradition of arranged marriages - and his growing love for Emily. But when she learns his family doesn't even know about her - and he's unwilling to say whether or not they even have a future together - she breaks up with him.

After Emily ends up hospitalized in a medically-induced coma, the film becomes Kumail's story. Her illness is the catalyst for him to weigh personal happiness versus cultural tradition: He's expected to marry a Pakistani girl, yet it's Emily who makes him truly happy. During this time, he meets Emily's parents (Holly Hunter & Ray Romano), who are slow to warm up to him at first, but their own views on relationships - including their own tumultuous marriage - leave Kumail with a few epiphanies about his own life, family and, of course, how he feels about Emily.

"Hi, I'm Travis Bickle. Where to?"
"Hi, I'm Travis Bickle. Where to?"

The bulk of the film focuses on Kumail's internal conflict, and while it's quite charming and often poignant, actual laughs grow fewer and farther between. On a personal note, Emily's illness sort-of hit my wife and I a little too close to home, since a similar, potentially life-threatening lung infection once landed me in the hospital for several months.

Still, The Big Sick is an engaging film, partially because it indeed defies expectations, but also because the characters and performances feel authentic. The knowledge that the entire film is based on how Kumail Nanjiani & Emily Gordon met in real life (and they wrote this together) makes the viewer more emotionally invested. On the other hand, it's also kind-of a spoiler regarding the ultimate outcome, but that's nitpicking. After all, what good's a rom-com - even one that breaks with tradition - if it doesn't end happy?

EXTRA KIBBLES

  • FEATURETTES: "A Personal Journey: The Making of The Big Sick"; "The Real Story" (featuring Nanjiani and real-wife Emily Gordon); "The Big Sick: The Other Stuff" (alternate gags); "The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs"; SXSW Film Fest Panel
  • AUDIO COMMENTARY - by Nanjiani, Gordon, producer Barry Mendel & director Michael Showalter
  • DELETED SCENES
  • DVD & DIGITAL COPIES

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