The Big Sick: Big heart matters

Falling in love with a girl in a coma sounds like a corny premise for a romantic comedy.

But “The Big Sick” isn’t simply a knockoff of “While You Were Sleeping.”

It’s something much, much more.

Based on the true romance of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, “The Big Sick” is one of the most honest, straightforward, quality pieces of American cinema this decade. There’s nothing flashy; no gimmick cameos or mindless dirty comedy bits.

“The Big Sick” is a story of boy meets girl, refreshingly simple and genuine. It’s one of the best movies of 2017 and you have to see it as soon as possible.

The film follows Nanjiani, who plays himself, as he meets young medical student Emily (Zoe Kazan) at a comedy club and the couple begin dating. Several months into their romance, Emily becomes hospitalized with an unknown disease and she is placed into a coma. Kumail’s parents, devoutly Muslim Pakistani immigrants, complicate matters by forcing Kumail to meet Pakistani women in hopes of an arranged marriage.

Though it helps that the “Silicon Valley” actor is playing himself in a film he co-wrote, it never truly feels like Nanjiani is acting in “The Big Sick.” The performance is so effortless and genuine that it often feels documentary in nature, making Kumail easy to root for in spite of some of the admittedly stupid things he says to Emily.

His performance encapsulates everything that makes “The Big Sick” a special film: casually charming, simple and straightforward in nature.

Though Kazan’s Emily is in a coma for a large portion of the movie, her work is so radiant and enjoyable early that Emily always feels present in every scene despite Kazan not being on screen. Her natural chemistry with Nanjiani carries the day in a film that could easily fall off the rails.

Audiences want Kumail and Emily to make it as a couple just as much for Kazan’s endearing performance as they do for Nanjiani’s simple honesty, a true testament to both actors.

Having Ray Romano play Emily’s father feels like stunt casting, until you actually watch Romano on screen. It’s an unexpectedly subdued, warm performance unlike anything the veteran TV comedian has given.

Holly Hunter, on the other hand, offers a wildly bombastic, aggressive performance as Emily’s mother Beth that brashly attacks the screen until it becomes irresistibly engaging. Audiences will easily find a dozen women they know inside Hunter’s fierce matriarch, a surprisingly exciting turn for Hunter.

While the actors portraying Kumail’s very traditional Muslim family aren’t nearly as famous, the performances are equally wonderful. Among them, Adeel Akhtar stands out as Kumail’s brother Naveed, often matching Nanjiani punchline for punchline.

The biggest strength of “The Big Sick” is how perfectly the film turns on a dime from traditional rom-com to something much deeper, a credit to director Michael Showalter for bringing Nanjiani and Gordon’s script to life in an organic, authentic way.

There’s never a “this is the time to get sad” moment in the film. Events flow naturally and progress as real life impacts Kumail, Emily and their families.

Producer Judd Apatow, well known for raunchy coming of age comedies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” has carved out a niche in recent years helping comedians make honest, layered comedies from 2009’s “Funny People” to to 2015’s “Trainwreck” to the 2016 Netflix miniseries “Love.”

As the driving force behind getting “The Big Sick” made, Apatow pressed Nanjiani to hone the film’s script over four years. The result is one of the best written comedies in more than a decade.

“The Big Sick” turns the corner for the romantic comedy genre, hopefully leading Hollywood to develop more honest, original films.

Nanjiani’s film is the new standard by which rom-coms heading forward should be judged and it’s a film that audiences should seek out in theaters.

There likely won’t be a better comedy in 2017.

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