By Roshan Chandy (Nottingham)

 

Any film which has a poster parading “From Judd Apatow” instantly evokes some scepticism. I can’t help, but shudder at the thought of yet another gross-out orgy from the man behind Superbad (2007), Knocked Up (2007) and The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005).

Thankfully, Apatow-produced The Big Sick remains widely free of the dick-loaded misogyny lurking in those mainstream comedies. Yes. This quirky tale occasionally reverts to analysing breasts, but such blunt interactions are directed with dollops of deadpan evident in beloved indie fare like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004).

Less a frat flick than a gentle romantic stroll, Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani stars as himself in this semi-autobiographical account of his romantic life. Based in Chicago, Kumail spends his days taxiing the city as an Uber driver while pandering to his Muslim parent’s attempts to arrange marriage with various Pakistani Muslim women.

By night, however, he’s a failing stand-up performer for a variety of crowds who are mostly unimpressed by his “offbeat” humour.

Kumail is deeply dissatisfied with his mundane lifestyle. Specifically, he longs for a relationship moulded purely from love rather than family ties.

Perhaps the very solution to this dilemma lies with the bubbly Emily (Zoe Kazan as Nanjiani’s real-life future wife). Whimsy, perceptive and yet somewhat innocent, she represents what many might consider is – dare I say – “wife material”.

When tragic illness strikes, however, Kumail finds his loyalties between family and lover more tested than ever.

With Islamic parenting, cultural identity and life-threatening disease all battling for equal screen time, you’d be forgiven for expecting The Big Sick to feel awkwardly squished between cheerful escapism and shameful awards manipulation.

What is most refreshing therefore is its sincerity.

Beneath its breezy sensibility, this is a poignant insight into the raw, real and often unfair lives of everyday folk.

In the central role, Nanjiani effortlessly embodies the frustrations and disillusionment of an ethnic minority citizen. His struggles in stand-up (a largely white sector) are a direct encapsulation of this.

In one hard-hitting yet hilarious scene, a dim-witted jock taunts our hero with the woeful words “go back to ISIS”. Kumail is unsurprisingly speechless as are the rest of the crowd. A scuffle even ensues between the racist jerk and a loudmouthed middle-aged woman!

What is ironic is that this “loudmouthed middle-aged woman” is Emily’s mum (Holly Hunter) who – alongside her slightly dozy husband (Ray Romano) – personify the implicit racial bias of a conventionally white middle-class American couple.

When they arrive at the hospital to find Kumail watching over a comatose Emily, both parents act rather confused over his exact role in their daughter’s life. One wonders whether such confusion would exist quite so obviously had Kumail been white.

The fact that Emily’s parents begin to relate to Kumail more and more amidst the uncertainty of their daughter’s condition only goes to further uncover many people’s unconscious racism. It suggests that it is often only in times of tragedy or moments of discomfort that people completely overlook their initial pre-judgements.

But The Big Sick isn’t bogged down by political correctness. Across the board, this is a film preaching accessibility to every class, gender and race.

You don’t have to be Asian to weep during a lump-in the-throat phone call where Kumail is first told of his lover’s sudden declining health.

Neither do you have be so to laugh like a hyena during brilliantly forward discussions about Emily’s Goth teenage years!

It would certainly be easy for The Big Sick to resort to victim playing for the discriminated or to become an embittered rant against mainstream Western culture.

And yet there are no blame fingers wagging around here. If one had any doubt of this, simply look towards the film’s treatment of Kumail’s own family.

The film never once feels even positively biased as it deconstructs the emotional toll this deeply conservative style of parenting can have on its children. A traditional form of household that still resonates through South Asian values and feels in desperate need of progression.

Most touchingly, however, what virtually every couple alive will find themselves sharing is our central romance’s core plight. Even without the stigmatised social issues tapered to this love story, the very essence of a relationship – from unrequited affection to first date to break-up – has rarely been captured with such honesty.

Without doubt, this is The Big Sick’s greatest charm. A film which even the least sentimental soul will find ability to relate.

Rating: 5/5

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