Monday, November 20, 2017
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Kumail Nanjiani's 'The Big Sick' is the cure to cookie cutter rom-coms

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INDIE FLICKS: THE BIG SICK

Kumail Nanjiani is known for HBO's Silicon Valley, but he'll be remembered for living a truly original romance then co-writing a movie about it and playing himself in The Big Sick (R). You will love Nanjiani and this movie.

The spoiler is right there in the opening credits. Nanjiani co-wrote The Big Sick with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, so obviously they married after she survives the critical illness in the movie. Emily is played by the beautifully plain Zoe Kazan, whip smart and just as funny as Nanjiani, a standup comedian drawing on his Pakistani culture for material.

They meet cute but wittier, more mysterious than usual. If these were big stars, we'd know they're made for each other, but they aren't so we don't. Director Michael Showalter could do an entire movie with just these two, a funnier Before Sunrise, and that would be enough.

But Kumail's parents can't know about Emily, and are urging him to marry a Pakistani woman as tradition dictates. His mother (Zenobia Shroff) arranges sudden dinner guests, always single Muslims toting resumes. The Big Sick opens new rom-com avenues through sheer diversity and our similarities.

Showalter could just make My Big Fat Pakistani Wedding and call it a day. But there's so much more to Nanjiani and Gordon's life together and perilously apart. She falls seriously ill with an issue doctors can't identify right after the couple breaks up. Kumail signs papers to have Emily placed in a medically induced coma or else she'll die.

That's when The Big Sick brings in a pair of brilliant ringers as Emily's parents, Oscar winner Holly Hunter and an extraordinary Ray Romano. She's fiercely protective, he's more laid-back. These characters are a movie unto themselves, a mismatch coming to light after decades together. Their initial distaste for Kumail softens believably, at times bitterly, but always with uncommon honesty.

This movie does so many things right, from Kumail's irrepressible comedy instincts at inappropriate moments to his Pakistani family dynamics. The Big Sick depicts standup comedy culture with the accuracy of Mike Birbiglia's films and medical uncertainty with darkly humorous restraint. This movie doesn't play any of its themes cheaply.

The Big Sick is a spirited indie rebuttal to cookie-cutter rom-coms with photogenic stars and Love Boat mechanics. With a little luck it could become this generation's When Harry Met Sally, redefining love in the movies. If Hollywood wants to imitate this one until the thrill wears off, I won't mind. A

NOW IN THEATERS: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

Leave it to an impetuous teenage superhero to open his movie in the middle of the week.

In Spider-Man: Homecoming (PG-13), Tom Holland slips into the mask as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, looking and behaving more like the intended teenager than Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield managed in previous incarnations. Holland's geeky confidence is source of sharp high school comedy in-between battling Vulture (Michael Keaton), sort of a junkyard Birdman.

A Grade B+ review was published earlier. Here' a sampling:

"Spider-Man: Homecoming does the improbable, successfully rebooting a reboot of a trilogy that did the job well enough only a decade ago. It's a movie that could be unnecessary but isn't. In fact, Spider-Man: Homecoming turns the web slinger into the funniest superhero not named Deadpool, an eagerly awkward wanna-be Avenger."

Click here to read the entire review.

 

In theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 The Big Sick: A charmer redefining what romantic comedy means.

2 Baby Driver: The most fun you'll have at the movies this weekend. (Shown above.)

3 Spider-Man: Homecoming: There's a new web slinger in town (Tom Holland) and he's geek-cool.

4 The Beguiled: Sofia Coppola offers a wicked remake of a '70s cult film.

5 Despicable Me 3: Fewer Minions, twice the Steve Carell means more laughs.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(Dates subject to change)

July 14: War for the Planet of the Apes

July 21: Dunkirk; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; Girls Trip

July 28: The Emoji Movie; Atomic Blonde; An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Aug. 4: The Dark Tower; Detroit


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