The Big Sick

A movie like The Big Sick is usually not one I'd have high hopes for. To wit: a standup comic and his wife write and produce a movie based on their own relationship. And the standup comic stars in it, as himself. It screams of narcissism. But I have always enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani in his TV work, and I admired Michael Showalter's previous directorial effort Hello, My Name Is Doris, so I took a chance.

The Big Sick is a variant on the old Sandra Bullock rom-com While You Were Sleeping, only sans the Bill Pullman character. Pakistani-born Kumail starts dating white American girl Emily (Zoe Kazan, playing an indeterminately fictionalized version of Nanjiani's wife/cowriter Emily Gordon). As Kumail despairs about keeping his relationship hidden from his traditional family, who are expecting him to enter into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman, Emily breaks things off – and then she goes into a coma. Kumail then finds himself bonding with Emily's parents, much in the way that Sandra Bullock bonded with her own comatose crush's family.

As the parents, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano seem an unlikely onscreen pairing, but they are delightful – Hunter in particular – and totally believable, both physically and emotionally, as Kazan-as-Emily's parents. They are by far the best thing about the movie, and reason enough to see it.

Other than that, The Big Sick is earnest and cute, but it never won me over. Though capable, Nanjiani makes for a surprisingly generic and not especially charming leading man. His character isn't even a very funny comedian! And Kazan plays Emily as such a prickly person – if she's not telling Kumail that they're through, she's rolling her eyes at him – that I began to question the long-term prospects of the real Nanjiani and Gordon.

Again, see the movie for Hunter and Romano, and enjoy the fleeting cameo by the wonderful Vella Lovell, from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as one of Kumail's would-be brides. In just two or three short scenes, she convinced me that Nanjiani married the wrong girl.