Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Big Sick Review

Kumail Nanjiani has a fairly unique story behind how him and his wife, Emily, finally ended up together. What's more unique is how him and his wife have decided to share that story with the world. They sat down and wrote a screenplay together for a movie of how they met, dated and eventually got married. That movie is called "The Big Sick" and is now in theaters nationwide after a phenomenal run in limited release where it accumulated a three-week total of $8.4 million at a max theater count of just 326 theaters. This after it's initial premier earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Now because of this success, it's expanded to 2,500 theaters this weekend and is thus available for you to see in a theater near you. Now a romantic comedy based on a true story isn't the most unique thing ever. There's even been movies where the story was even more incredible than this. And I suppose it's probably not out of the ordinary for the couple to be involved in the filmmaking process, although I can't think of any off the top of my head. What makes "The Big Sick" unique in my mind is that Kumail Nanjiani stars in the film... as himself. I can't think of any movie based on a true story, non-documentary, where the subject of the film is also the star of the film.

The movie begins as your typical boy meets girl romance drama. Kumail does stand-up comedy. Emily attends one of his shows. Kumail goes and talks to her after the show and they have an immediate connection which sparks a relationship. Like with every romance drama, tension sparks in the relationship which causes them to go their separate ways. In this instance, cultural differences are what stand in the way. Kumail belongs to a Muslim family who have immigrated from Pakistan at some point in the past and Emily is your typical white American and has a hard time understanding certain aspects, which is not helped by Kumail's dishonesty with the whole situation. The tradition in Kumail's family is arranged marriage and if he goes against that, his family might not be so happy with him. Yet it would also spark trouble if he told his girlfriend that he was participating in dinner appointments to please his family with these other girls while he's dating her? So what's the right thing to do? Lying to both sides is not necessarily the best option in the world, but you can understand why he would make the decision to do this. But as we go on with this story, you get the feeling that everything is about to blow up in Kumail's face. And it does.

Lest you feel I'm diving into too much detail with this, I promise you that this is just the set-up for the real drama of the movie. I won't spoil the film in this review, but I do want to talk about this major drama that ensues because that's what sets this movie apart from other romance dramas. This movie is much more than your cliche chick flick, thus I honestly believe that guys and girls alike will enjoy this movie. The aforementioned box office total thus far as well as the 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 92 percent Flixter user score and 8.1 IMDb score appear to back me up on this statement. Now if you've heard enough from me at this point and you want to go in totally surprised because a well-reviewed romance drama written by the couple and starring Kumail as himself is enough to get you in your seat, then feel free to close this review and go see this movie. But if you're like me and romance dramas aren't your typical cup of tea, thus you want to know why you should go see this movie, then proceed. Because these are the questions I was asking myself. The first third of this movie was decent, but I was trying to figure out why this movie was getting so much praise because to me it didn't seem super special and I didn't even know about the couple's involvement.

Then we got to the second act. This is where the curveball hits. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl experiencing a falling out and go their separate ways. Then girl gets hospitalized with a rare disease where boy gets called in and has to sign off as her husband so that the hospital people can put her in a medically induced coma to figure out what's wrong, which is followed by boy having to call the girl's parents, who fly into Chicago from North Carolina to be with girl... and boy? Say what? Yeah, this movie gets super awkward real fast and I really loved it. There is real honest tension between the two and both are committed to going their separate ways. This could be the type of relationship where Kumail learns from his mistakes and tries to do better next time. We all experience that. But then he is uncomfortably and awkwardly thrown back while he is with a different girl, almost against his will. I mean, what would you do if your ex's friend called you saying your ex is in the hospital and they need your help because her family is in town? Exactly. That's the type of situation where you don't question or debate. You go. And because Kumail is genuinely a good person, he stays with her. Then this is where the hilariousness ensues.

What really made this movie work so well for me was not necessarily the relationship Kumail has with this girl. It's the relationship he develops with her parents. If you had to hang out with your girlfriend's parents on your own, that alone can be awkward enough. Now imagine that you are forced into hanging out with your ex-girlfriend's parents. She hates you at this moment because you've done some awful things and it turns out that she tells her parents everything, so they hate you. But you're stuck with them in a room with these doctors and nurses or in waiting rooms as you all eagerly wait for more updates. The awkwardness just oozes from the scenes and makes you feel uncomfortable yourself as you watch this and try to imagine yourself in this situation. And that's where the movie becomes hilarious. This was advertised as a romantic comedy, not just a romantic drama, thus I was waiting for the comedy to kick in the first third of the movie, but I just wasn't getting it. I tried. But all I could muster was some courtesy laughs. But then there was absolutely no holding back for me in the second act with the parents. I lost it. A lot. When you go into a comedy and you experience genuine gut-busting laughter the entire time, that's the best.

Thus when all is said and done, the real stars of this movie for me were Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily's parents. First off, I want to shine the spotlight on Ray Romano. He's a comedic actor that I absolutely loved in "Everybody Loves Raymond." If I'm being honest, I don't like many modern sitcoms because they don't make me laugh. But I love my 90's sitcoms because they did make me laugh and "Everybody Loves Raymond" was right up there with the likes of "Home Improvement" for my favorite 90's sitcoms that I practically watched religiously. Following "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray Romano kinda disappeared. Outside the "Ice Age" franchise, he hasn't really done much that has stood out. But he's back in this. If you can imagine Ray Barone, Ray Romano's character in "Everybody Loves Raymond," but 10-20 years later as the parent of a 20-30 year-old daughter, that's what he's like in this. I started feeling super nostalgic and thus super happy. Now team him up with Holly Hunter, who essentially plays a very outspoken southern mother and they work magic together and the relationship they build with their daughter's ex-boyfriend is rather touching. A "don't judge a book by it's cover" situation.

I also don't want to dismiss Kumail's performance as himself. On the surface level it might seem easy to play yourself in a movie because you have years of experience already doing so in real life. You don't have to become a new character. You just have to remember how you acted in certain situations. But then I thought that if I had to reenact former moments of my life and make them believable to the audience, that actually might be really hard. Because you've learned from past experiences and hopefully have tried to become a new person, but now you have to go and dig up all those old emotions and try to become your former self again? That's a very unique performance to judge, as again, I can't think of a time where an actor has played themselves in a movie. Oftentimes they will have a cameo in the movie as a different character, but they don't usually play themselves. And then he has to build believable on-screen chemistry with a girl who is NOT his wife, pretending that she is. Because Emily is not played by the real Emily like Kumail is. She's played by Zoe Kazan from "Ruby Sparks" and "What If." So yeah, a tricky performance that I was impressed with. He gave an Oscar-worthy performance playing himself that I think is worth the praise.

Overall, I do think this movie lives up to the hype it's been given. If you like romance dramas and/or romantic comedies, this is a movie that you definitely should check out. If you don't like those types of movies, I don't think you should immediately write this one off. I think you should give it a chance because I'm usually quite picky with my romance movies, but I loved this. I don't often enjoy romance movies because many of them follow an extremely formulaic plot that I get bored with. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl split up. Boy and girl realize that they are meant for each other and get back together. Yawn. I need something more than that and this movie definitely gives me more. I'm so glad that Kumail and Emily decided to share their story with the world because I think there's a lot that could be learned from it. And there's also a ton of hilarious awkwardness thanks to Ray Romano and Holly Hunter that made me feel like I was watching a modern version of "Everybody Loves Raymond" on top of this very touching romance story. Great humor. Great drama. Great performances from everyone involved, especially Kumail playing himself as well as Ray Romano and Holly Hunter stealing the show. I've giving "The Big Sick" a 9/10.

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