Sometimes, out of both sheer excitement and building anxiety that comes along with a lengthy wait, it can feel like the build-up to something you’re exciting about is forever. In this case, it’s only been about five months, but the wait since first first hearing about The Big Sick and finally seeing The Big Sick felt like about five years.
As the story behind the film goes, Judd Apatow and Kumail Nanjiani originally linked up while both doing Pete Holmes’ podcast at SXSW several years ago. The two hit it off, and eventually decided that they wanted to work together, with Nanjiani brainstorming a number of ideas that he would eventually bring to the comedy-legend producer. The one that popped was real-life—Nanjiani’s roller coaster tale of romance with his wife, Emily Gordon, who ended up writing the script alongside him.
Eventually, Apatow and Nanjiani linked up with Michael Showalter, of Wet Hot American Summer and Stella fame as director, after seeing his remarkably interesting Sally Field vehicle Hello, My Name Is Doris, deciding his way of meshing comedy with drama was a perfect match for the tone that this film takes.
What The Big Sick ends up accomplishing, is—in my mind—perfect romantic comedy. It touches on all of the standard hallmarks of the genre: boy meets girl, boy and girl get together, boy and girl break up, boy and girl end up together. That’s not a spoiler—you know it’s coming. To succeed in the genre, really, unless if you’re Annie Hall or something slightly-adjacent, you pretty much need that—even something like Silver Linings Playbook follows that formula.
But what the film does that’s unexpected, and new, is to cram all of the standard stuff into the first act; from there we get a diverse story, focusing in on Nanjiani’s Pakistani heritage, as well as the meshing of cultures; we get compelling performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano—so, so, good, just inherently lovable—as the parents of Emily (Zoe Kazan). And, of course, as the title alludes, we see the fallout from Emily’s big sickness—a catastrophic event that makes everyone question everything. Along for the ride are comic favorites like Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham, who really shine as a pair of Nanjiani’s stand-up buddies.
Showalter’s skill as director is a major highlight here—this is a man who’s been around for some time now, having started as a part of The State, and directing both Doris and The Baxter previously. The jokes are refined, and nothing ever feels too out of the realm of reality; it feels real, frankly, because it was. It’s not far off, in a way, from Manchester by the Sea—it’s funny, but it’s also sad. It’s sad, but it’s also funny. Neither overpowers the other too much, because that’s not how life is. There’s always going to be that balance.
But, in the end, the person destined for big things to come from of all of this (and, by all accounts, this movie should be huge. There is no reason for it not to be) has got to be the guy at the center, and that’s Mr. Kumail Nanjiani. Through Portlandia, Silicon Valley, and a number of other very funny appearances throughout the past half-decade or so, he’s built up an incredible amount of goodwill among people who like to watch things and laugh—it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like the guy. And here he thoroughly holds his own—comedically, dramatically, relatability, everything—and you just want to see more. As great as Nanjiani can be in smaller (but expanding!) parts like Dinesh in Silicon Valley, it’s hard to think that he’ll be anything other than headlining comedy flicks from here on out; he’s that convincing, and the final product, frankly, is just that good.