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The Big Sick pushes the “in sickness and in health” thing to the limit

click to enlarge Zoe Kazan plays Emily

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Zoe Kazan plays Emily

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy like no other.

Yes, two people fall in love in it, but that's about all it has in common with your average romantic comedy. This film is an amazing beast off in its own rom-com category. Let's just call it a rom-coma comedy.

Real life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon penned the script based on their own courtship. Nanjiani plays himself while the eternally awesome Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) steps into the role of Emily.

Their story is incredible, and the way it is presented here, by a fine ensemble under the direction of the great Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris, Wet Hot American Summer) stands as one of the year's best films.

Kumail is a standup comedian trying to make it in Chicago when Emily takes in one of his sets and gets noticed. The two wind up in bed together, with Kumail actually being the Uber driver that has to take her home. They have a good time, but they also vow to never see each other again.

That doesn't last long, and the two wind up in a relationship, one that Kumail keeps secret from his Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) who are trying to arrange a wife for him. Things get complicated, and the two of them split. Things get even more complicated when Emily winds up in the emergency room with flu-like symptoms, and Kumail is called upon by her friends to check up on her.

After an awkward hospital visit, Emily winds up in an induced coma, with Kumail informing her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter). As Emily's situation worsens, Kumail, technically her ex-boyfriend, spends a lot of time with her parents and a lot of time coming to terms with his feelings for Emily.

Nothing you know about Ray Romano will prepare you for just how damn good he is as Terry, Emily's sensitive dad. I mean, the man was funny on Everybody Loves Raymond but hell if I knew he could not only do drama, but more than hold his own with an epic Holly Hunter... He has a scene in Kumail's apartment, where he reveals details of his marital tensions, that will stand as one of the year's best acted scenes. He's a legitimate Best Supporting Actor Oscar contender.

Hunter is right there along with him when it comes to Oscar worthiness. Her Beth is a strong-willed person, so strong she practically beats up a frat boy heckling Kumail at one of his gigs. Hunter is always good, but this role is her best in years. It's also her funniest turn since playing Edwina in Raising Arizona 30 years ago. Yes, Raising Arizona came out 30 years ago. Let that linger for a moment.

Showalter, who actually spoofed romantic comedies, co-writing the script for 2014's They Came Together starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, rides the film's shifting tones like an expert surfer sliding in and out of waves and skipping over sharks. There are so many ways that this movie could've gone wrong, but it's never melodramatic or kitschy or cutesy. It deals with every relationship, cultural and family issue in an incisive way mostly absent from the movies. All while making you laugh and cry. Hats off to Showalter.

Nanjiani, like Romano, has shown a stellar ability to make us laugh with past projects, but he delivers a range of emotions here that should keep him in dramatic roles for the foreseeable future, if he wants them. Alas, he is yet another Oscar contender this film has to offer. And even though her character spends a good chunk of this movie asleep, don't count out Kazan either, an actress of extreme power.

I don't think I've ever had to use my T-shirt sleeve to dab away tears from both laughing and crying while watching a movie in public. The Big Sick got me both ways, and it will get you, too. ■


More by Bob Grimm

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