Blu-ray Review: The Big Sick

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A work of autobiography by real-life married couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who stars as himself), The Big Sick was the big winner this past summer, at least in terms of indie films. Distributed by Amazon Studios and Lionsgate (now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD via the latter), this memoir-on-film grossed ten times its paltry $5 million budget and scored near-unanimous appreciation from critics. While it's hard not to root for Kumail and Emily (played not by Gordon, but by Zoe Kazan) as their troubled relationship is tested by the onset of a serious illness, The Big Sick is far from perfect. 
 
Big Sick zoe kazan.jpg For one thing, Kumail and Emily are so goshdarned cute there's simply no reason to have even mixed feelings towards them. It's not a bad thing for a film's protagonists to be nice, but sometimes "nice" manages to skirt complexity. Kumail is a Muslim American struggling to find his footing as a stand-up comedian. His family, who immigrated to the U.S. when Kumail was very young, holds onto their Pakistani traditions tightly. This includes arranged marriages. Kumail's mom is constantly inviting beautiful Muslim women to the family's weekly dinners, hoping her son takes a liking to one. But Kumail isn't having it, nor is he studying for the LSAT per his parents' wishes. They look down on his efforts as a comedian (he's also stretching into drama with a one-man show based on his upbringing; he drives Uber to pay the bills).

In other words, we get to know a pretty well-rounded character in Kumail. We know what he hopes to accomplish, and his big weakness: an unwillingness to openly defy his parents, which leads to dishonesty between he and Emily. The two met during one of his performances (she mildly heckled him). Their affair is initially casual, with neither wanting to admit how serious the relationship is slowly becoming. Eventually Emily wants Kumail to meet her parents—and to meet his—but realizes this an area of avoidance for a specific reason. A debilitating infection puts Emily in the hospital, and eventually a medically-induced coma. She spends most of the movie's two hours in this condition, while Kumail uneasily gets to know her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). They know all about the big blowup their daughter had with Kumail about this and don't take too kindly to him. 
 
Big Sick hunter romano.jpg To be fair, all of this place out with grace and charm in the screenplay by Nanjiani (best known as Dinesh on HBO's Silicon Valley) and TV writer Gordon. Much of Kumail's interplay with Emily's parents is funny in unexpected ways (thanks to great supporting work by Hunter and Romano). But they've shortchanged Emily, even considering she's in a coma for much of the picture (as for her illness itself, one can only imagine an alternate movie where Dr. House and his diagnostics team drop in to solve her problem). Even before she falls ill, Emily is more an ideal than a character. Kazan, as likable as a persona as she presents, is given too little with which to create a full-bodied character. Or at least one as well full-bodied as Kumail. This is his story when it might've been even better as their story.

Lionsgate brings The Big Sick to Blu-ray with a selection of special features that includes: commentary with director Michael Showalter (My Name Is Doris) along with Nanjiani and Gordon, ten minutes of deleted scenes, a few minutes of outtakes, 'making of' featurette, and a couple post-release segments (2017 SXSW Film Festival Panel," "The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs").

The Big Sick is an unpretentious, affable romantic comedy with just enough emotional resonance to make it stick. Certainly easy to recommend, just maybe not a movie to revisit frequently.
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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