The Big Sick

I don’t usually see movies when they’re brand new.  But I feel daring and all caught up because I’ve just seen The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani’s auto-biographical comedy. It’s a film that came out back in January.

It feels even fresher because I’d just seen Nanjiani on Saturday Night Live last week, one of the funniest monologues I can recall.  The monologue references the reception of the film, what he read online.

He quotes one person’s comment:

“I watched the whole movie, I just don’t like race-mixing”.



First of all, nobody good ever uses the phrase “race—mixing”.  Even if someone said “I’m pro-race-mixing” I’d be like “why are you talking like that?! Are you an undercover KKK Dragon?”

The other thing. Why do you watch the whole movie? Were you hoping for a twist at the end? Did you think I was going to rip off a mask, “haha, it’s Chris Pine. I’m a white person.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to hear this kind of comedy. I love This Hour Has 22 Minutes and of course SNL for their political edge. Whereas CNN is like a bad dream (will someone please wake me up?), comedy is now taking over from the news networks, giving us glimpses of the truth.

Nanjiani is such a breath of fresh air, especially on US television. We’re spoiled by the comedic genius of Sean Majumdar and Russell Peters in Canada.  Nanjiani is perhaps similar, even though he’s a complete original, as we saw on SNL:

…which brings me to my problem with most racism.  Here’s my problem with most racism. It’s the inaccuracy.  That’s what bugs me.  I’m like “DO THE RESEARCH! PUT IN THE WORK! You will see the benefits!”

I’ll give you an example. If someone yells at me “Go back to India,” I’d be like “that guy’s an idiot”.  But if someone was like “Go back to Pakistan: which was part of India until 1947, and is now home to the world’s oldest salt mine,” I’d be like “that guy seems to know what he’s talking about… I’ll pack my bags.”

Just because you’re racist doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant.    An informed racist is a better racist!

Now after that ridiculously digressive and self-indulgent preamble (which wouldn’t have been necessary if youtube had the monologue; maybe next month?):  let me caution you!  The Big Sick is nothing like that.  It’s not a series of comedy routines, it’s a serious film.  YES Nanjiani does portray a stand-up comedian.  But by now, after our encounters with Robin Williams’ life, it should be clear: comedy can be a desperate and unhappy profession.

We see the most unbelievable bad set from the comedian that Nanjiani presents for us in a comedy club, as he goes up onstage while coping with the emotions in his life.  His girl-friend Emily is sick, on the verge of dying.  His family meanwhile want him to marry a Pakistani Muslim girl, not a white American.

This is no to get into the right mood to go onstage.

It should be no surprise that The Big Sick was produced by Judd Apatow, that daring purveyor of difficult comedy.  What do I mean by “difficult comedy”? I’m thinking of films that are really pushing the envelope of what might be considered funny, films that some would say failed miserably:

  • Cable Guy
  • The 40 year old Virgin
  • Knocked Up
  • Funny People

Okay I have a confession.  I love Funny People, that movie where Adam Sandler is cracking up, and gets the shit beat out of him by Eric Bana.  And I love Superbad, but who doesn’t.

The Big Sick defies the usual expectations of genre.  Is it even a comedy? For much of the film we’re watching someone who seems to be dying, and I mean in addition to the inept comedy we see onstage.  What happens when people get close to one another in a hospital while standing by someone on the verge of death?  If you’ve been there—and I confess I have—this film will be poignant beyond anything you see in formulaic Hollywood comedy.

We see Nanjiani in the hospital with Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter –whom I’ve missed terribly over the past few years—and Ray Romano.  I didn’t recognize RR right away. He underplays so well we doesn’t resemble an actor, but a real human.  I think that’s a good thing even if critics likely were thrown for a loop. He’s unrecognizable, and I think that’s a good thing.

I think we’ll see a lot more of Nanjiani, especially if he and Apatow have any other projects up their sleeves.  I love that my ideas of comedy are being played with, enlarged, and revised by the great writing and courageous performances.  I’ll see it again mostly because it feels like the best film I’ve seen in months, and also to see how it feels the 2nd and 3rd time.   I have to see it again!  The first time I was hesitant about laughing in many places that were painful. NOW, knowing how it ends (and I hope I am not accused of being a spoiler by reporting that in this romantic comedy, the girl at death’s door in the hospital ICU –played by Zoe Kazan—does actually survive), I think I’ll dare to laugh in a few places that were painfully scary the first time.

You should see it.

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