If brevity be the soul of wit, then Judd Apatow proves again that he lacks a whole lot of soul. For all its charms, and there are many, The Big Sick ultimately overstays its welcome, which for an Apatow production, is an all too familiar pattern.
In another Apatow trademark, this is a film about a comedian. This time Kumail Nanjiani holds the mic, playing himself in a script he wrote about how he met his life partner.
It starts with the cutest of meet cutes. In fact, it’s the opposite of a meet cute. The banter between Kumail (he keeps his own name in the film) and his romantic interest Emily (Zoe Kazan) is the reverse of what we’re used to, with the self deprecating Kumail saying things like “well can I give you an awkward hug since this is the last time I’ll see you”. Kumail, after all, is paid to say funny things, so he has a lot of good lines.
Of course, you can’t have a good romcom without something getting wedged between the love struck couple, and in this case it’s the fact that Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family. Every week he has lunch with his family and his mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) feigns surprise when an eligible single Pakistani girl just happens to drop by.
Kumail hasn’t built up the courage to tell his family about Emily yet, and when Emily finds out, it causes a rift between them.
Well, that’s one wedge. Then there’s another when Emily contracts a serious lung infection and is placed in an induced coma. This is when Kumail meets Emily’s parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. They know that Kumail broke their daughter’s heart, so they’re none too friendly towards him.
It’s a shame that Kazan’s character spends so much time in a coma because she’s the strongest thing in the film. While she’s out of the picture, despite the comic antics of Romano and Hunter, the wind falls out of the film’s sails.
For his part, Nanjiani has a lovely deadpan charm, but it’s best appreciated when he has Kazan to play off and we can enjoy the chemistry that sparks between the two of them.
There’s plenty of fun to be had at racial stereotypes, like when Emily calls an uber and Kumail’s phone rings. He’s Pakistani, so of course he’s a cab driver. And there’s a 9/11 joke which is probably the best punchline in a film all year.
That being said, the best lines don’t happen anywhere near the stand-up mic, and you wish Apatow would get over his fixation with comedians and produce films about other people for a change.
So for all it’s good points, the film is mostly distinguished by its shortcomings, the stand up material that doesn’t work, the gaping hole that Kazan leaves for a long stretch, and that unnecessary overlength. A romantic comedy has to be really special to go for two hours, and it’s just not warranted here.
This Big Sick could do with being a little smaller.
The Big Sick is currently screening in national release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee