Cinema Review: The Big Sick

There are more ways to kill a cat than by choking it with butter – which is to say that it has taken a long time for mainstream cinema to come up with a movie about a Muslim that is light-hearted but intelligent rather than earnest and self-congratulatory. It may have an awful title, but Michael Showalter’s adorable rom-com cuts through polemic without at any time dodging the issue of what it must be like for his protagonist, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), to be torn between the two worlds of his life in Chicago as an Uber driver and stand-up comedian and the member of a devout Pakistani family.

His mother (Zenobia Shroff) has presented countless potential brides for Kumail, but he is not in the least interested in an arranged marriage – in fact, he is not particularly taken by any of the traditions of the old country. He drinks alcohol and spends his prayer time playing video games and practising his cover drive (he prefers cricket to baseball). When he picks up Emily (Zoe Kazan) in a bar one night, the problems of a cross-cultural liaison loom large. Being a passive, indecisive character, Kumail does not tell his parents about Emily, but when she is hospitalised with a critical illness he must own up to himself and decide who he is and what he wants. Drifting rudderless, Kumail is easily likeable and recognisable, and his relationship with the more open Emily is genuine enough to push him to the point where, frustrated by his ostracism from the family, he asks of his parents, ‘If you wanted so much for us to live in America and not Pakistan, why can’t you accept American customs?’

It is a pertinent if un-PC remark, but it is as close to controversy as Showalter wants to go, preferring instead for the gentle humour of the narrative to prompt rather than direct his audience to questions that must be clearly understood in societies of mixed ethnicities. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are also terrific as Emily’s out-of-town folks.

Highly recommended.

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