I’m not typically drawn to romantic comedies, but The Big Sick (2017) is a glorious exception. The film loosely dramatizes the true-life romance of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and writer Emily V. Gordon, who together co-wrote the script. Nanjiani stars as himself, an aspiring Chicago comedian who lives under the strict expectations of his traditional Pakistani family. After delivering a set, he hits it off with the feisty Emily (Zoe Kazan), with whom he embarks on a quirky, unconventional relationship—which he hides from his parents, who are still trying to walk him into an arranged marriage. The cultural divide eventually tears the relationship apart, but by a twist of fate Nanjiani is called to the hospital when Emily falls mysteriously ill. There, he befriends Emily’s parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), with whom he develops an unexpected, intense rapport of shared concern. His experience challenges the very foundations of his life, and leads to agonizing decisions.
The Big Sick is such a well structured, perfectly clocked story that it’s hard to believe it’s based on something that actually happened; mercifully, it lacks awkward biopic rhythms. It’s satisfying on every level, from its authentic sense of humor to its fraught emotional moments. Nanjiani brilliantly brings his trademark deadpan comedic style to the role, but also proves himself as a dramatic actor and romantic lead. Kazan complements him perfectly, and the supporting cast is full of great comedic performances, especially from Hunter and Romano. It’s also extremely refreshing to see a film illuminatingly handle the cultural issues facing Muslim-Americans. This one is a genuine delight.