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Laramie Movie Scope: The Big Sick

A clash of cultures and expectations

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 7, 2017 -- I missed this film when it first came to town, but decided to watch it when it came back. It is a bit more depressing than I like for a romantic comedy, and it would almost be a downer, except for the fact that it is based on a true story, which turns out to be more upbeat than the story in the film. On the other hand, it is way better, and more original, than the standard Hollywood romantic comedy.

The main character is not your typical Hollywood type. In fact, neither the guy, nor the girl in this romance are typical Hollywood. They look like, well, just normal people. The main character is an aspiring stand up comic, Kumail Nanjiani, who plays himself in the film, and he co-wrote the screenplay, too. The love interest, Emily (played by Zoe Kazan of “What If”) is studying to become a psychoanalyst. They meet at a comedy club where Kumail is performing.

As expected, in a film written by a stand up comic, there are a lot of clever one-liners in this film. There is a lot of funny verbal jousting in this film between Kumail and Emily and between the various comics that Kumail hangs out with. Kumail and Emily move together, then move apart, and back again. They seem to circle each other warily, concerned how this relationship might affect their careers.

Kumail is under pressure from his parents to marry a nice Muslim girl from Pakistan, but he doesn't want to. He is attracted to Emily, who is an American and is not Muslim, so Kumail hides his affair with Emily from his parents, and he also avoids allowing Emily to meet his parents. Eventually, this situation blows up.

Later, Kumail is drawn back into the relationship because of a sudden, serious illness. He is forced to confront his feelings for Emily and to confront his parents, too. In the process, he develops, against the odds, a relationship with Emily's parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Unexpectedly, Emily's mother defends Kumail when a heckler interrupts his comedy routine. That seems to mark a turning point in their relationship.

The film has unusually deep and rich characterizations of several relationships, compared to most romantic comedies. In addition the main relationship between Kumail and Emily, there is a deep exploration of the relationship between Emily's Parents and between them and Kumail. The story seems uncompromising in its unflattering depiction of some characters. Most of these characters are not the sort of stock characters often seen in these kinds of films.

For a romantic comedy, this film strays away from romance a lot. It also has some serious drama, pushing it almost to the brink of death, before pulling back suddenly. I suppose the film's title is a takeoff on “The Big Sleep,” which is death itself. Love can be a scary, messy thing, and it certainly is in this film. The acting is very good and the story (co-written by Emily V. Gordon) is highly original. As a bonus, it is based on a true story which is pretty upbeat, even though this edgy movie is less so. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2017 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)