Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Big Sick

Can you create a comedy out of a chronic, potentially life-threatening medical condition? What about 9/11 sick jokes? Michael Showalter's The Big Sick doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a mixture of Love Story and My Beautiful Laundrette, a social satire and melodrama rolled into one. The lingua franca of the movie about Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) an aspiring Pakistani standup comic who falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), a psychology graduate student felled by a serious illness, is almost entirely the one-liner. “Emily is fine,” Kumail informs Emily’s parents, “She’s in a medically induced coma.” When Emily’s father asks the man who may be his future son-in-law, “what’s your stance on 9/11?” Kumail replies.”9/11 was a tragedy. We lost l9 of our best guys.” Even the characters who are not in the comedy business spew out one-liners that catch you off guard. Just after Emily emerges from her coma, she stares at her father and cries out “that shit tastes like semen” when a nurse tries to feed her. Despite his elation over his daughter's recovery, it's not exactly the first words a father expects to hear as her daughter emerges from her sick bed. And Showalter turns his own palette on its head during dramatic moments when some of Kumail’s routines become confessionals. It’s all very pat and predictable stuff yet curiously infectious. You don’t want to enjoy jokes being made at the expense of real conflicts and problems and you don’t want to find yourself being wafted away by a Pakastani soap opera that recycles a plot about intermarriage that could easily have made its way onto the stage of the Yiddish theater. Yet the sum of the parts turns out to be greater than the whole and the hysteria of all the converging plot lines and crises (as Emily’s condition worsens and Kumail is in danger of being disowned by his parents) makes it hard to walk out of The Big Sick without a smile on  your face.

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