There’s so much going on in “The Big Sick,” it’s a wonder the movie ever gets around to comedy.
We’ve got a new romance, a breakup, the immigrant experience in America, parental dysfunction, a great deal of medical information and a lot of backstage showbiz stuff.
And yet, the movie is funny — at times very, very funny. Screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (his wife) used the bizarre story of their own courtship to craft this skillful crowd-pleaser.
Nanjiani (a stand-up comic best known for “Silicon Valley”) plays a version of himself, a comedian balancing his career with the expectations of a traditional Pakistani family. (At this point “career” is driving for Uber and telling jokes at small clubs.) His parents want a nice arranged marriage with a Pakistani girl, but he falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), who couldn’t be whiter.
The strain between his two worlds causes the couple to split, which is followed by Emily’s unrelated medical crisis. This brings Kumail in the orbit of Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), a twist that reaps a whole new set of awkward/amusing situations.
The film’s shrewdest move is bringing in old pros Hunter and Romano, two actors who know how to deliver. The material may be at the sitcom level, but watching these performers play off each other is pure pleasure.
Equally fine are Bollywood star Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff as Kumail’s parents. Their scenes around the family dinner table, where they present Kumail with a series of prospective Pakistani brides, are like a comedy gift that keeps on giving.
The performers are all sharp — like many Judd Apatow-produced movies, this one finds room for even one-scene actors to play around (also, like other Apatow productions, “The Big Sick” goes on just a little long).
Director Michael Showalter (“Hello, My Name is Doris”) finds the right tone in each scene — not easy in a film that veers from slapstick to medical comas. The only thing he can’t figure out is how to keep us from feeling the absence of the effervescent Zoe Kazan, who by necessity has to be unconscious for half the movie.
Nanjiani himself brings a laid-back style and genial presence; his nice-guy warmth provides a spine for all the moving parts. If “The Big Sick” goes a little soft toward the end, it’s a small price to pay for what has been, after all, an extremely unusual boy-meets-girl story.
“The Big Sick” (3 stars)
A genial rom-com with a lot going on: slapstick, the immigrant experience, family dysfunction and a medical crisis. Kumail Nanjiani (who also scripted) and Zoe Kazan play lovers separated by culture and a coma. Even if the film goes a little soft toward the end, it’s got a great roster of expert performers, including Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.
Rating: R, for language
Opening Friday: Meridian