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MOVIES: The Big Sick - Review

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After a critically acclaimed showing at the Sundance Film Festival, where it was snatched up by Amazon Studios for an impressive $12 million price tag, Michael Showalter's hilarious and heartfelt comedy The Big Sick makes it ways to cinema screens this week. Co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the film is a fictionalized retelling of the couple's real-life romantic origins, with Nanjiani portraying himself and the ever-captivating Zoe Kazan stepping in for Gordon.

As a Pakistani immigrant, Kumail struggles to find his place in American society, often channeling his experiences and observations into fodder for his appearances at a local comedy club. His career of choice doesn't sit well with his parents, whose strict adherence to cultural traditions finds them inviting their son over for family dinner as a thinly disguised excuse to set him up with the latest young, single Pakistani woman they've discovered. Kumail reluctantly goes along, playing the role of the dutiful son while carrying on a somewhat clandestine relationship with a grad student named Emily (Kazan) and trying to delay the fallout that will inevitably occur should his parents discover the truth.

When the cultural divide ultimately proves too much for the young couple to handle, they part ways, and a short time later Emily is hospitalized with a mysterious illness. This brings her parents into the picture: overworked math teacher Terry (Ray Romano) and sharp-tongued Beth (Holly Hunter), who are well-versed in the status of their daughter's relationship with Kumail and regard him as little more than a nuisance. But try as they might to keep him at arm's length, when Emily's condition worsens they begrudgingly accept the idea that Kumail has no intention of leaving her side, and a rather unconventional bond begins to form.

The Big Sick takes a significant risk in sidelining one of its most endearing characters for a lengthy segment of the film, but it also provides the perfect opportunity for Nanjiani to showcase tremendous range. The comedian's trademark snark is on full display here, but there's also a surprising amount of pathos, with hardly a moment that feels anything less than authentic. Trying to live up to the expectations of his parents while also forging a path that makes sense for him is a conflict that audiences should easily relate to - regardless of their upbringing - but the added weight of cultural influence should feel particularly resonant for anyone with similar backgrounds.

Romano also flexes his chops as Emily's world-weary father, trying to navigate his own relationship struggles while holding everything together for the sake of his daughter, and his candid conversations with Nanjiani offer some of the film's highlights. It should also come as no surprise that Hunter is on point here, firing off her fair share of verbal barbs before her icy demeanor gradually melts away into genuine affection, complemented by a fierce display of loyalty during a night out on the town.

At just under two hours, The Big Sick treads back over similar ground a few too many times, and feels like it could have been tightened up in the editing room. But this minor nitpick aside, Showalter's film is a wonderfully original exploration of the experiences that shape who we are, and the differences that make each of us unique. Equal parts humor and heartbreak, and consistently entertaining, The Big Sick is one of the most genuine relationship stories I've ever seen - thanks in no small part to the real-life connection that laid the foundation.

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