The “Naughty Pakistani” Mona Shaikh isn’t the only jocular immigrant from that Asian land who’s making waves - and laughs - on America’s comedy scene. Kumail Nanjiani (of the awful HBO series Silicon Valley) co-stars in this autobiographical romcom which he co-wrote with his real life sweetheart Emily Gordon. Despite its Raymond Chandler-like title, The Big Sick is a Chicago-set dramedy about the inter-racial romance of a Pakistan-born wannabe standup comedian also named Kumail with the blonde Caucasoid Emily (Zoe Kazan), an all-American girl type. Complications ensue because of Kumail’s family and cultural constraints.
Despite its Raymond Chandler-like title, The Big Sick is a Chicago-set dramedy about the inter-racial romance of a Pakistan-born wannabe standup comedian also named Kumail with the blonde Caucasoid Emily (Zoe Kazan), an all-American girl type.
The Big Sick is frequently funny, with great zingers and one-liners, including a hilarious bit about 9/11 (too soon?). As the plot takes a turn towards the serious, there is also convincing drama. The feature is extremely well-acted and Sick’s cast includes the preternaturally talented Holly Hunter (but seriously, folks, has this Oscar winner, who has also been nommed for three Best Actress Academy Awards, ever not been super-duper??? The year Hunter won for 1993’s The Piano she was, quite incredibly, also nominated for The Firm. [JUMP CUT: Film historian slaps his forehead.]). As Hunter’s husband - and Emily’s father - Ray Romano has probably never been better.
Presumably putting her grandfather Elia Kazan’s techniques as a co-founder of the Group Theatre to good effect, Zoe delivers a completely natural performance. The problem with her, however, is that Kazan is simply not a particularly attractive actress who - despite the fact that she’s not especially good looking - keeps getting cast in movies where she’s supposed to be pretty and even some sort of dream girl. It just doesn’t ring true - Kazan simply doesn’t live up to the billing, although she is otherwise quite good (if not entirely believable) as Emily.
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Kumail’s family members all acquit themselves well and with humor (especially India-born actor Anupam Kher as the sometimes befuddled father caught between two worlds). I enjoyed and was moved by this two-hour-long movie, which theatrically opens July 14. However, the flick’s subtext is similar to movies like The Heartbreak Kid and its 2007 remake, wherein the Jewish male rejects his Jewish wife (at their honeymoon!!!) to obsessively pursue the blonde shiksa “goddess” (memorably played by Cybill Shepherd in the 1972 original). Kumail similarly rejects all of the Pakistani suitors (some far more physically appealing than Emily) his mom (drolly played by Zenobia Shroff - who is from Mumbai) tries to set her boychik up with.
Given today’s inter-racial dynamics and the so-called “clash of civilizations,” some may regard this as a rejection of one’s own culture (and religion, as Kumail admits he doesn’t believe in Islam) in favor of whitey and the dominant culture’s women. This theme of rejecting one’s own heritage goes at least as far back as Hollywood’s first talkie, 1927’s The Jazz Singer.
Some may also look askance at Indian thesps portraying Pakistani characters.Others may just regard Kumail’s sexual preference as a case of “to each their own.” Be that as it may, The Big Sick is an entertaining flick that also includes a behind-the-scenes peak at the standup comedy world, with SNL’s Aidy Bryant adding to the laughs that abound in this engrossing cross-cultural comedy.
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/reviewer co-presenting Alexander Dovzhenko’s Arsenal on Friday,7:30 p.m., June 23 at The L.A. Workers Center, 1251 S. St. Andrews Place, L.A., CA 90019. This is part of the ongoing “Ten Films That Shook the World” series celebrating the centennial of the Russian Revolution through November. For info: email@example.com.