“The Big Sick” is an Instant Romantic Comedy Classic

They say a great comedian knows how to find humor in even the darkest corners of the human experience. If you believe this to be true, then one thing is for certain: Kumail Nanjiani is a great comedian.

Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, “The Big Sick” is film that isn’t easily labeled. Tears and belly laughs come simultaneously in equal measure, but more than that, so does the sense that this husband-wife duo is imparting true wisdom gained by their experience. This is a screenplay that is bursting with heart and authenticity.

Directed by Michael Showalter and based on the real-life story of Nanjiani and Gordon’s courtship, “The Big Sick” starts off with struggling comedian Kumail (Nanjiani, playing himself) falling in love with Emily (a radiant Zoe Kazan). Only problem is that Kumail comes from a very traditional Pakistani family, with his parents dead-set on him having an arranged marriage. When Emily finds out that he’s been keeping their relationship a secret from his family, she swiftly breaks things off.

Soon, however, this will be the least of their problems. In what on paper seems like an utterly bizarre turn of events, Emily ends up in a medically-induced coma battling a mysterious illness. Next thing you know, Kumail finds himself sleeping on hospital chairs every night alongside Emily’s parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter), whom he’s never met before. The interactions between the three start off as somewhat hostile — they know about the breakup, and Beth doesn’t understand why Kumail won’t just leave — but those early interactions soon give way to one of the film’s most distinct pleasures: Watching this unlikely trio come together.

As Emily’s parents, Romano and Hunter positively shine. Romano’s signature deadpan demeanor easily complements Nanjiani’s wry humor, most notably during an awkward conversation early on in the film that leads to a 9/11 joke that very well may be the funniest quip of the year. Hunter is a standout as Emily’s fiercely overprotective mother, exhibiting warmth while packing the intensity of a pit bull. She’s the perfect contrast to Romano’s low-key character, and if there’s any justice in the world, she’ll be recognized come award season.

Judd Apatow produced the film, and in true Apatow fashion, “The Big Sick” feels about ten minutes too long towards the end. Thankfully you’ll relate to these characters and their struggles so much that the overlong runtime is easy to forgive. This is the most hilarious, empathetic film dealing with illness since 2011’s “50/50.”

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