Sundance favorite turns tragedy into comic genius

Sundance favorite turns tragedy into comic genius

Talk about a hard sell: A comedy about a young woman in a medically induced coma near death is risky business. But what is it comedians always say? Comedy is nothing but mining your personal tragedies for laughs, and that’s what comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon have done in their touching, hilarious story.

This movie was one of the favorites at Sundance earlier this year. It’s enjoyed great buzz and set off a huge bidding war eventually won by Amazon, which earned this a wide release that it probably shouldn’t have as it is somewhat of a niche movie — odd for an R-rated comedy. But a lot of F-bombs are what earned this rating, not sophomoric, drunken high jinks.

In what is a mostly autobiographical movie, Nanjiani plays himself — a struggling comedian living in Chicago. What defines his comedy and his life is that fact that he comes from a strict Pakastani home. His parents (played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) tolerate his desire to make it as a comedian (on the side, he’s an Uber driver), but one thing they will not bend on is the traditional arranged marriage of their culture. One of the movie’s running jokes is the attempt to set him up with an endless parade of young Pakastani women.

So, it’s problematic when Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) one night at the comedy club where he performs. She’s cute, funny and definitely not Pakastani — and he is pretty much smitten even though they both know it’s not a good idea to get serious. She, because she’s earning her masters and doesn’t want a relationship to get in the way and he … well, because this is not in his parents’ plan.

As the real story goes, the two eventually break up and only a few weeks later Emily is rushed to the hospital with a serious infection that defies diagnosis. Her parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) come immediately from New York, and Kumail, who’s been tipped off by Emily’s roommate, spends the next two weeks getting to know them while sitting in the waiting room as Emily lays in a hospital bed.

Nanjiani is a naturally funny guy, and like any great comedian, he can find the humor in any situation. Watching him face off against Hunter and Romano is blissful because they also have a gift for the funny. “SNL” regular Aidy Bryant and comedian Bo Burnham round out the cast as comedy club regulars and friends.

A quick Google of Nanjiani and his wife, Emily, will tell you that she did recover and they are currently married, so this story has a happy ending. Thank goodness, “The Big Sick” is not a big bummer.

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