The Big Sick Gets The Diaspora Bang-On

The Big Sick

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Roe Romano, Holly Hunter, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff

Directed by: Michael Showalter

Rating: ****(4 Stars)

I confess I didn’t know who Kumail Nanjiani was until I saw him in this wonderful life-giving film about love, sickness, healing and cultural assimilation. But that’s okay. Even Anupam Kher who plays Nanjiani’s father, didn’t know who Kumail was until this film.

It is not important  when you get to know  a person. It is important how well you get to know  him.

This is one of the big takeaways fom The Big Sick. This season’s big healing film about physical and cultural sickness.

A very informative  chunk of the storytelling goes into establishing remedial rythms between the film’s protagonist  Kumail and his future in-laws,played with disarming levity by Roe Romano and one of favourite actresses Holly Hunter. They are in hospital tending to their ailing daughter whose ex-boyfriend Kumail lands up to do a bit of healing himself.It is  not a situation that lends itself  to satire. No one in their right minds would try to levitate the tragedy .

Director Michael Showalter balances the inherent ironies of a Pakistani-American’s struggle to shrug off the lable of terrorism with a joyous  and immovable feeling of faith in the power to heal through love.

Try it. Triteness is sometimes a gateway to freedom.

What  could easily have been a cumbersome selfindulgent  journey of a comic stand-up who is hellbent on graduating to a lead riding on his own (admittedly poignant) culturally-challenged love story with his American soul-mate, alchemizes into a magical romantic romp in the raw.

Kumail strips down the  terrifying subtext(you know, that entire thing about Muslims being associated with the ‘T’ word). He whittles the politics of extremism  down to a series of giggly effulgent gags and jokes, which miraculously work.

Early in the courtship when Emily(the lovely Zoe Kazan) calls Uberfor a cab after a night with Kumail his phone rings.

“Your driver will be with you as soon as he has his pants on,” Kumaildrawls in that acquired America accent which makes him sound likePriyanka Chopra in drag.

You know the jokes  are planned to the point where the rehearsed seem improvised. But you go along with Ninjiani’s plans to manipulate our senses, knock down our distrust of cinema based on real-life incidents(specially that one where the real character steps  into his reel avatar) and simply snuff out our surplus of cynicism.

Savour , then, the lingering legacy of a  nostalgia that seeps into the very cultural vortex of Islamophobia. Kumail doesn’t flinch from 9/11 and ISIS jokes. To him the all-pervasive power of love and  the message of  love-conquers-all presides over the politics of his narrative, furnishing it with an  inbuilt foolproof device against any attempts to interpret the politics of humanism as inappropriate.

The film has a tremendous transparency and innocence. Nanjianiand Emily(Zoe Kazan) look so much like a real couple  that you forget this is a facsimile of the real thing. Roe Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents fortify the undercurrents of tragedy with an ineradicable state of grace.Their lunch scene with Kumail in the hospital cafeteria where 9/11 is discussed with  unnerving equanimity and furious humour ,is  a sound example of the pitch-perfect equipoise that this film achieves between telling it like  it is and telling it whether we like it or not.

Our Anupam Kher as Kumail’s conservative father brings a sense of burnished cultural pride  into the proceedings without prancing into the province of  pomposity. You wish there was more of him. But then this is a film about the Pakistani  hero exploring his American side, determined to get it right at any cost.

Admirably The Big Sick never makes us uncomfortable  about the politics of terrorism that hovers just under the narrative’s blithe surface. The film is way too chilled-out to be squirmy about people who shoot  others for pleasure.

Quite clearly Ninajiani and his director had has fun with the shooting of another kind.

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