The Big Sick (available now on Blu-ray Combo Pack with DVD and Digital HD, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand) is a big surprise, at least for me, because it had a few strikes against it going in. First, it's a romantic comedy, a genre that's featured terrible chemistry between leads and bad scripts for a long time now. Second, it was directed by Michael Showalter. The State was incredibly funny and subversive when it debuted on MTV back in the '90s but all the actors have aged and shtick that works in your 20s starts to get really stale when you're pushing 50 (see the Netflix Wet Hot American Summer revivals). Third, Kumail Nanjiani plays Dinesh, the most annoying character on HBO's Silicon Valley. How could that guy ever be a convincing romantic lead?
Good news: I was wrong on all three counts. The Big Sick is outstanding, especially if you think you hate romantic comedies.
Pakistan-born standup comedian Kumail goes out with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his stand-up sets. It's supposed to be a one-night stand that becomes a full-blown relationship. Kumail's parents are determined that he have an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman and he avoids telling them about Emily. She breaks it off with Kumail when she learns that he's been hiding her from his family. After she falls ill and goes into a medically-induced coma, Kumail meets her parents and realizes that he must choose the life he wants instead of the one he's expected to have. After she wakes up, he sets out to win her back.
The biggest strength is the script, based on Nanjiani's real-life marriage to Emily Gordon. The couple co-wrote the script and the story benefits from both of their perspectives. Nanjiani is fearlessly playing less-flattering moments that must come from Emily's perspective. The script also explores marriage through the relationships of Kumail and Emily's parents and each character's relationship to their families. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are especially good as Emily's parents, who are going through a bad patch while their daughter is sick.
Showalter's direction is patient, sensitive and mature. There's none of the bottom-scraping impulse to highlight the cheapest joke possible that defines his best known work. He's taken a thoughtful script above love and long-term relationships and given it the careful touch it needs.
And Kumail Nanjiani plays himself like the lucky guy he must be. He got a second chance after he blew a relationship and later got his wife to help him write a screenplay that's intended as a love letter to their marriage.
If you loved the movie in theaters, there are plenty of bonus features that make the home video version a worthwhile purchase. If you want to know the real story of Kumail and Emily, there's a “A Personal Journey: The Making of The Big Sick” Featurette, “The Real Story” Featurette, the 2017 SXSW Film Festival Panel and Cast & Filmmaker Commentary with Actor-Writer Kumail Nanjiani, Writer Emily V. Gordon, Producer Barry Mendel and Director Michael Showalter. They'll feel like part of your only family by the time you're done watching all of that.