Friday, 28 July 2017

Review: The Big Sick

The Big Sick
Cert: 15 / 120 mins / Dir. Michael Showalter / Trailer

Now, being a snob is a terrible thing of course. That said, one of the best things about this terrible thing is knowing full well you're a snob and just rolling with it. And so I found myself in screen 2 of my local on Monday night, rolling my eyes at the sound of an audience laughing out of pre-programmed obligation, determined to find something audibly amusing here since they'd been told they were coming to see A Comedy Film™.

I am a comedy snob. The Big Sick isn't funny*1.
There, I said it.

The story follows Chicago stand-up comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) as he falls for Emily (Zoe Kazan), a girl he meets at one of his shows*2. But Kumail's Pakistani heritage clashes with Emily's commitment issues and awkwardly-white parents, and things come to a sudden head when Emily falls seriously ill and has to be placed into a coma…

And so, the film industry continues to re-invent itself. We've seen the dawn and development of Post-Horror, now comes Post-RomCom; a genre where both the traditional Rom and the Com have been replaced with meandering, melodramatic, mawkishness, overlaid with underwritten characters and forced awkwardness in lieu of jokes. It's not even that the central premise - a layering of cultural integration and life-threatening illness - is an 'unsuitable' subject for comedy, just that the film isn't as deft, incisive or challenging as it would like to be.

As if the (perceived) lack of humour wasn't enough to annoy me, the structure and pacing of the film are all over the place, too. Usually for this sort of thing*3, there's about 30-40 minutes of gags at the start, before things take a more ponderous, plot-progressing tone. The only concession that writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon seem to have made to this end, is to include a swathe of brick wall stand-up club comedians as supporting characters*4. Although naturally as they aren't the lead players, they're not allowed to be as funny as stand-up comedian Kumail. Who also isn't funny. But don't worry, this doesn't drag on for too long, as in fairly short order we're into Emily being coma-induced and the introduction of her sketchily-written mildly-xenophobic parents. The initial romance between the leads doesn't have the time it needs to bed in, Kumail crosses the cultural bridge with Emily's folks far too quickly and with no real feeling of resolution, and the emotional conflict he has with his own parents feels like it's been wrapped up with a day's pick-up filming. Marketed as A Rom-Com, the best thing I can say about the film is while it fails in its primary objectives, it's nothing less than the advertised run-time. And even then, the film feels about 30 minutes too long. Although at times it felt like it was going to be about 120 minutes too long, so every cloud…

In terms of (acting) performance, Nanjiani and Kazan are on relatively good form; just relatively good at being borderline unlikeable characters, which is a problem in a vehicle such as this. It's no great spoiler to say that the film has A Happy Ending™, you're just left with the feeling that neither lead character really deserves it. Still, The Big Sick appears to be at least semi-autobiographical, with Kumail both co-writing and starring in a lead role (nice of him to shoulder the burden), plus a smattering of 'hey, some of these people are real!!' photos over the closing credits. You get the impression that our hero wasn't excruciated enough having to live through this the first time and he's now trapped in some kind of behavioural loop as a penance*5.

I wanted to like The Big Sick on general principle, but it turned out that my reservations from watching the trailer were borne out in full. I don't doubt the good intentions of the film for a second, but it's patronising and self-indulgent beyond belief. Like throwing a party for yourself and only inviting strangers so they won't know you're bullshitting when you make your thank you speech. And as much as I've moaned about the film, I got home from the cinema, typed up the points I wanted to make in my review, went to bed and had been awake for about two hours the next day before I even remembered that I'd been to watch it. That's the impact it had.

Obviously The Big Sick is not as flat-out appalling as The House, but that should go without saying.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
£3 DVD, tops.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Be a lazy get-out for Kumail and Emily's kids/grandkids when they ask 'how did you meet?' and they can just slap a DVD on? Yeah.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars Zoe Kazan, who was in What If along side Adam 'Kylo' Driver, and which had a remarkably similar poster to this movie…

Well at least TRY…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Credit where it's due, the punchline to the "You've never talked to people about 9/11?" gag from the trailer is good (punchline not in trailer); that's it. In two full hours, that is it. [ BACK ]

*2 Kumail is a stand-up comedian and Uber-driver (his day-job). I'm not exactly sure what Emily 'does'. Kumail gets two jobs; Emily gets fitness-aerobics once a week as a plot-device. Her vocation is evidently so inconsequential that it's either mentioned fleetingly or not-at-all in the script. If it is brought up, then it makes so little difference to the outcome of the film that I've forgotten it completely and the film's own Wiki page doesn't bother to mention it, either. Basically, she's The Girl One™. And in any other film that'd be bad enough, but remember that the actual, real-life Emily co-wrote this film. Insert thumbs-up emoji here, indeed.
[ BACK ]

*3 Assuming the Producer-role for this outing, Judd Apatow seems to be positioning himself as the Richard Linklater of studio-comedy. I've got news pal, he's self-centeredly crap as well... [ BACK ]

*4 This film is to stand-up what Begin Again is to the music industry. [ BACK ]

*5 Oh, I almost forgot the film's other joke. As seen in the trailer, the girl whom Kumail's parents have invited to dinner awkwardly notes that Kumail likes the X-Files and then twenty minutes later his mobile rings and it plays the X-Files theme music. This is a callback. It's just not a funny one. It's also not a particularly relevant one in 2017, unless you're still an X-Files geek (fair enough), and you think that hearing the theme music to your favourite show is clever and/or amusing (unlikely). I imagine the reaction of most members of the applicable demographic to be much the same as my own when someone makes an "I am your father" gag in my presence and I want to cave their head in with a housebrick shouting "YOUR CULTURAL REFERENCE IS THIRTY SEVEN YEARS OLD AND NO LONGER RELEVANT UNLESS YOU'RE ALSO WORKING IN SOME CONTEMPORARY ASPECT OR RELEVANT COMEDIC INVERSION: WHICH YOU ARE NOT." [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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