Kumail Nanjiani was born in Pakistan, and grew up there for the first few years of his life before his family moved to the United States, but as he says in his stand-up comedy act, the two places are very much the same. OK, maybe not very much - well, the expectations are very different, take the arranged marriages for instance, Kumail's parents are trying to marry him off to a nice Pakistani girl who they wholeheartedly approve of, but he is simply not interested, he has been taken with the Western idea of romance and would prefer to find love that way. One night when he is onstage, a young lady lets out a whoop at one of his jokes, and catches his attention, so after the show he meets her...
And if you knew anything about star Nanjiani's life you would know who she turned out to be, as The Big Sick was based on a few weeks in his life when he met the woman who he fell in love with, but as cruel fate would have it she wound up seriously ill and hospitalised just as it looked as if their relationship was going somewhere. Now, it was important to know that the way reality played out was not the way the story here unfolded, and some artistic licence was implemented to ensure it was dramatically and comedically satisfying, though with that in mind and being aware of what had been exaggerated, you may have been set a-wondering why they thought these embellishments were improvements.
Obviously the jokes were added to the genuine situations, for this was a hybrid between comedy, drama and romance, and though they were not to everyone's taste at least they were identifiable as intended to be humorous, but there was a misstep in the second half of what was a shade overlong at over two hours. Nanjiani took care to depict his devout Muslim family as a well-rounded an affectionately portrayed unit, and in a climate where those of that faith were being blamed for countless ills in the world thanks to terrorism the majority of them did not endorse, this was refreshing, and not only that but tellingly the darker aspects of Islamic fundamentalism never crossed your mind.
Not until the attacks of September the 11th 2001 are brought up and trigger the funniest joke in the movie, that was, not bad when most gags about the worst of events are meanspirited, by and large, so Nanjiani deserved immense credit for finding the laughs in the darkest of material, and that did include what happens to Kumail's new girlfriend Emilly (Zoe Kazan, kooky as ever). As this was the entire premise, albeit one that does not take place until forty minutes into the plot, it was not spoiling anything to say she falls ill and has to be placed in a medically-induced coma for her own good while the doctors race to find out what it wrong with her. As this is happening, our hero struggles with the knowledge they did not part on good terms last time they saw each other, but he is invested enough to show up every day at the hospital.
There he gets to know Emily's parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano with just the right mix of warmth and standoffishness, depending on the scene, and the scene is set for a far more complex connection to the infirm woman than Kumail would ever have considered when he chatted her up in that comedy club a few weeks before. The issue with this was that producer Judd Apatow, who commissioned this script drawn from Nanjiani's own experiences, had instructed him to beef things up, and that ended up with false notes, most blatantly that the protagonist's family disowned him when they found out he was dating a white woman, which never happened. It spoke to pandering to the outsiders' view of Islam in a way that was uncomfortable, sure there would be some friction but letting us see his folks as more human and less caricature would have been a better option. Other than that, it was different in a landscape of samey, contemporary comedies, not as funny as it might have been but Nanjiani came across as highly affable and that kept you watching. Music by Michael Andrews.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray has a making of featurette as an extra.]