TOBY WOOLLASTON is surprised to discover something almost as rare as hen’s teeth: an excellent romantic comedy.
Good rom-coms have been a rare commodity of late, so the critical success of The Big Sick at Sundance has been a shot in the arm that the genre sorely needed. Thankfully, its critical success is well founded.
The Big Sick is an autobiographical film (with a few cinematic embellishments) that covers the unusual courtship of scriptwriters Kumail Nanjiani and his real life wife (and co-writer), Emily Gordon. Their non-fictional account may be a spoiler for how the film ends, but thankfully, its rewards are firmly planted in the journey rather than the destination.
Tracking the giddy origins of a romantic relationship always provides the biggest payoff for any successful rom-com, and Kumail (who plays himself) and Emily’s (Zoe Kazan) flirty but cautious beginnings are no different.
Kumail is a standup comedian by night and an Uber driver by day. During one of his comedy routines he is heckled by a stranger in the crowd – Emily, as it turns out. A couple of post-show drinks and an amorous night kick off a burgeoning romance. However, the future is not so rosy for the couple as they negotiate the treacherous waters of cultural difference… and a coma.
What feels rewardingly fresh are the film’s characters, who are decidedly authentic, flawed and vulnerable, adding to its accessibility and appeal. The couple’s parents are thankfully not pushed into the margins, instead serving to enhance proceedings rather than distract from it. Commanding a significant amount of screen-time, Emily’s folks, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter), offer deliciously lived-in performances, and Kumail’s parents Azmat (Anupam Kher) and Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) prickle with a cocktail of rigidity and humour.
Comedically, it does mine the oft-used stereotypes of Indo/European cultural difference (the arranged marriages, the terrorism gag, yada-yada). But thankfully, Nanjiani and Gordon do so with a light touch, never losing sight of its modus operandi of telling an entertaining story ripe with rich characters. Nanjiani and Gordon’s very personal script has delivered a warm-hearted comedy full of emotional texture and pathos that reveals the absurdity of real life.