A comedy bio pic about Kumail Nanjiani's family and relationships The Big Sick is one of the more challenging films I've had to review for some time. That's not because the movie is particularly polarizing, it's because of my skin tone. You see I am a first generation Canadian- Pakistani. My parents were both born in Pakistan. My father was raised there and only moved to Canada after he and my mother married. The reason that this makes this film difficult for me to talk about is that I'm not wholly sure how much of my appreciation of the film is objective. Do I like this film because it's legitimately good or because it's rare that a film like this is so relatable to me and my experience?
We start things of in Chicago where Kumail is working as an Uber driver and struggling stand up comedian. At a show a young woman by the name of Emily catches his attention, they spend a night together that quickly grows into a burgeoning relationship. All the while Kumail is hiding both his relationship and his want to pursue stand up comedy from his parents. Things come to a rocky end when Emily learns she is more invested than he is but a medical emergency sees him and her parents at her bedside while she undergoes treatment. If you want to know how the film ends just look up any biography for Kumail Nanjiani and it spells it out. That doesn't mean that the journey itself isn't hilarious and full of heart.
Over the course of the film you really get a strong sense of just how torn up Kumail is, trapped between his Pakistani roots as well as his wants to grow beyond them. That isn't to say he is ashamed of them, he accepts them but he does so with the quiet reservation of knowing how that implicitly limits him, something you see during one of his in film stand up sets. Along with this you also see a very honest take on just how he limits himself in his unwillingness to take a stand for his own wants. On the one hand he wants to be with Emily who makes him earnestly happy but at the same time he can't turn his back on his family despite the fact that he knows they will never understand his desires to move past the patterned life they want for him. We see how he tries to live in both of those conflicting worlds and how both difficult and self destructive that can be. More than once I found myself muttering "Too real." to myself in between hysterics.
Make no mistake, for all its more sombre moments The Big Sick is still laugh out loud funny. The press screening was a filled theatre and despite a room comprised entirely of people who immerse themselves in the entertainment mediums to the point of oversaturation and over stimulation, there are several parts of the movie I simply didn't hear the dialogue for because it was drowned out by our response to the punch line. The deadpan humour suits everyone very well, especially Ray Romano who plays Emily's father. It's all done in Kumail's signature style of "Well duh" and "What were you expecting?" smarminess that is decently broken up so that it never overstays its welcome.
If I have complaints they are with regards to an uneven tone and the limited acting range of our lead character. The film is undoubtedly both funny and emotional, the trouble is that it tends to have a difficult time balancing the two sides, often leaning more heavily on dramatic emotion for the second and third acts. It's really too bad that the film doesn't spend more time coming to grips with Kumail's internal struggle with his inherited culture. This especially will have deeper connecting points to members of the audience like myself. Beyond two conversations his internal issues really just come off as him shrugging through his life which is too bad considering it misses an opportunity to have a serious (and somewhat needed) deeper discussion about the immigrant experience. Frankly, those conversations were important and again really resonate with a portion of the public that doesn't normally see itself represented on the big screen
This is where Kumail and the movie as a whole struggle sadly. Because of the mock serious tone that laces all of the humour of the film its sometimes difficult to switch your own emotional expectations for a scene as the movie moves to a new point or general tone. I found myself waiting for a punch line or quip when there wasn't going to be one and I found myself wrong-footed a few times as a result. Kumail is a very well practiced if one note comedic actor but a dramatic talent, he is not. He isn't bad per-se he just can't hold a dramatic scene as well as he can a comedic one. It's obvious where his talent lies and while many of the events shown were no doubt traumatic and hard for him in real life, on screen he just isn't able to convey that. That being said the film does owe a fair bit of its strength to the maturity with which it showcases the various personal struggles since nothing is just solved because we need a happy ending. There are long reaching and heavy consequences for the mistakes Kumail makes and its satisfying to have a film call out its protagonist on his errors. More poignant are the consequences to aspects of his life he has no control over. That by virtue of being Pakistani- American, his life will be fundamentally different and difficult in unique ways.
Overall it's a solid film that conveys the different experience that first generation immigrants, particularly Muslim ones, often face in adapting to the American lifestyle while also attempting to balance it with their traditions. Funny without being silly and full of genuine heart, The Big Sick is definitely a win. For anyone who's ever known they are different as they look in a mirror, this will resonate. To the general public, this will be by turns eye opening and side busting despite its limitations.