Michael Showalter's The Big Sick
Sundance 2017. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's real-life rom-com.
So this is evidently one of the buzziest stories coming out of Sundance this year—so far. "Amazon Studios is finalizing a deal pegged at $12 million for U.S. and other rights to The Big Sick," reports Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr. This "is shaping up to be the first big [sale] on the ground at 2017 Sundance and one of the largest deals in Park City, period." At IndieWire, Anne Thompson and Chris O'Falt note that, on the night of the premiere, and with "15 minutes left in the movie, executives were climbing out of their seats and conferring in the back of the theater and in the lobby."
As Jason Bailey explains at Flavorwire, "The Big Sick is, in many ways, an outright dramatization of how stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon met, fell in love, and sort of continued to do so while she was in a medically-induced coma. Nanjiani doesn’t even bother giving his character a different name… But that authenticity and candor is part of what makes The Big Sick shine so brightly—it’s got the lived-in coziness and complicated wit of a James L. Brooks movie…. Among other achievements, The Big Sick confirms that there’s basically nothing Zoe Kazan can’t do; she’s so sincere, and funny, and truthful, and when she tearfully asks Kumail, 'Can you imagine a world in which we end up together,' she tears your heart out."
At the Playlist, Noel Murray adds that Kazan’s performance "is very much in the spirit of the film, which transforms several worn indie genres into something personal and lively. This is one part disease movie, one part 'private lives of stand-up comedians,' one part cultural assimilation saga, and one part 'boy loses girl and learns to grow up' tale." Even so, "it feels spot-on in nearly every aspect…. Produced by Judd Apatow, director Michael Showalter doesn’t do anything spectacular visually with The Big Sick. For the most part, his lack of style serves the comedy, letting the performances and Nanjiani and Gordon’s sharp script do the work."
"At around two hours, The Big Sick has some of that trademark Apatow sprawl," notes the AV Club's A.A. Dowd. "But the hefty running time is justified in the terrific second half, when the film deepens into something much more distinct and perceptive, as Kumail is thrown into an intense, unusual ordeal with Emily’s parents, wonderfully played by Holly Hunter and a never-better Ray Romano. It’s at this point that viewers may start to understand why this particular courtship cried out for cinematic treatment; theirs was a unusual situation, rife for both cringe comedy and pathos."
"While Nanjiani makes the most of his turn in the spotlight, the movie works so well because every actor in the core quartet is allowed room to shine," writes Geoff Berkshire for Variety. "The spirit of generosity and inclusiveness runs throughout terrific turns from Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler as Kumail’s standup pals; Shroff, Anupam Kher, Adeel Akhtar, and Shenaz Treasurywala as Kumail’s family; and Vella Lovell as one of Kumail’s mother’s chosen women, who delivers a devastating takedown of his childish behavior."
For ScreenCrush's Matt Singer, "the real MVP of the film is Romano. People who only know him from Everybody Loves Raymond will be blown away by his multilayered performance here, which is predictably hilarious and surprisingly touching." Adds Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com: "The best Hunter has been in years and possibly the best Romano has ever been on film."
"Nanjiani and Gordon’s script zooms across a minefield of zings," writes Jordan Hoffman for Vanity Fair. "It’s an onslaught of acute wit that seems easy, and Showalter’s unfussy camerawork sometimes evokes a sitcom—but really, this is the result of endless revision and fine-tuning. It’s also a little daring: there’s a 9/11 joke (I know, I know) that is so perfect we at the film’s Sundance premiere missed the next few moments of dialogue due to the profound laughter it stoked."
"Having directed the weirdly pitched dramedy Hello, My Name Is Doris and co-written David Wain's wink-wink rom-com deconstruction They Come Together, it's hard to see what inspired the writers and producers to team with Showalter," suggests John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "But here he sheds every smart-ass and absurdist tendency, delivering such a straightforward and heartfelt picture many longtime fans may accuse him of selling out. Nanjiani's fans, however, have no such cause for complaint."
Updates, 1/23: "The involvement of producer Judd Apatow can be seen in the roundedness of the characterizations and the pleasing messiness of the movie’s emotional texture," writes Justin Chang. "But Nanjiani’s immigrant identity opens up an entirely new dimension of the Apatovian universe for him to colonize." And "it’s Nanjiani’s voice—hilarious, sardonic and completely sincere by turns—that we hear most clearly."
Also in the Los Angeles Times, Steven Zeitchik notes that "for a small movie, Nanjiani packs a lot of ambition on its shoulders: dating, career paths, intergenerational religious conflict, mortality, Muslims in post-9/11 America and the plight of the stand-up comic (hey, it’s still an Apatow movie). Both Apatow and Nanjiani, for all his dry-as-the Kharan Desert delivery, are keen to make the comedic moments ripple with danger."
Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf: "The film is saying something both obvious and wise: when you want someone, you often have to woo their parents. But more subtly, The Big Sick implies that if the love is real, the wooing can happen even when you’re lying unconscious on the brink of death."
"It cannot be overstated how refreshing it is to watch a narrative built around a Pakistani-American lead in which his heritage and culture are crucial to the proceedings but only one part of a larger piece," writes Dan Mecca at the Film Stage. "Old-guard traditions are introduced as a potential villain, but ultimately handled with nuance and grace."
Updates, 1/26: "It's hard to do justice to the weird tonal balancing act of this film," writes the Voice's Bilge Ebiri. "For the vast majority of its running time, The Big Sick astutely pulls you between the twin poles of agony and glee."
"Kumail’s particular dilemma, caught between his own American aspirations (a stand-up career and dating) and his parents’ Pakistani expectations (law school and an arranged marriage), isn’t the standard stuff of the previously all-white Apatow oeuvre at all," writes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. "He’s not just another non-committal schlub waiting around for the right woman (or man, like in Trainwreck) to make an adult out of him. He’s afraid, with good reason, that he’ll have to choose between the person he’s grown into and the family he loves… The Big Sick is an immigrant story as much as it is one about falling in love."
"But jeez, that screenplay," sighs Sean Burns. "Much like its cousin Trainwreck, The Big Sick has so many endings I started to put on my coat at least four times thinking it was time to leave, only to discover with a sigh there was still a lot more movie to go…. This isn’t a bad movie per se, but it is an extremely frustrating one that left me longing for the days when rom-coms weren’t structured like The Return of the King."
Update, 1/27: "What’s so surprising about the film is not how funny it is, though it is certainly that, but how touching and from the heart the material is," writes Zach Gayne at ScreenAnarchy. "The Big Sick is a milestone film for Showalter and a work that will push Nanjiani into a more serious, well-deserved light."
Updates, 2/18: Writing for the Notebook, Lawrence N Garcia finds that "there's a groundedness to the film (particularly in its generosity towards its characters) that both charms and moves, even as it maintains its punchy, jokey rhythms. The structure can seem somewhat shambling and some beats a touch overdetermined; but it's the kind of personal story that actually feels personal."
"Meet your new rom-com leading man," announces David Fear in Rolling Stone.
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