LIZ SMITH: “The Big Sick”, Good for What Ails Us

 by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

“The Big Sick” — So Good For What Ails Us!!  Also — TV’s Fabulous Dragons and Claws.

“This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.” Winston Churchill.

YES indeed, Mr. Churchill!

One does seem to spend an inordinate amount of time these days coming across, or — somewhat masochistically — deliberately looking for great quotes from great people, to assure us that bad times and history passes. Or that history repeats itself, and we are doomed. These days there’s no middle ground, no “meh.” And if you are “meh” feel free to be deeply ashamed.

But, the dare and endure aspect of Churchill’s quote is not what we deal with today. (There, isn’t that a relief?!) Nope, for all our stresses, we must make time for ease and comfort. I found that and considerably more over the weekend when I took in the highly praised movie “The Big Sick.”

Based — with artistic license no doubt — on the real life courtship of the film’s star, Kumail Nanjiani, and his wife, Emily V. Gordon (they share screenwriting credit) “The Big Sick,” running just under two hours, put me in a place of ease, comfort and some hope for the human condition. Not to mention hope for the big-screen comedy — although the movie is far too multi-faceted to be bracketed as a comedy, or a dramedy, or a romance, or a chick flick.

The fine writing and across-the-board superior performances, puts Hollywood on notice — you can make people laugh (and cry, and smile until your face joyfully hurts) without projectile vomiting, binge-drinking, endless gratuitous expletives and the rest of what passes for an amusing evening at the cineplex way too often. (And before I seem covered in old-person prudery, I’ve enjoyed films with all of the above gross enticements. But it’s the old story — one good one, the rest are trash hoping to ride the raunchy coattails.)

Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in “The Big Sick.” SARAH SHATZ/LIONSGATE

“The Big Sick” tells of a Pakistani stand-up comic (Kumail) and his girlfriend (Zoe Kazan). In the movie they are called Kumail and Emily, just like in “real life.” She is not of his race or religion.

Faster than you can say, “are we breaking up? … are we really serious?” she falls ill and is placed in a medically induced coma.

Kumail stands vigil at her bedside, despite the distaste and confusion of the coma-stricken girl’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and Kumail’s mother (Zenobia Shroff) who wants nothing more than for her son to marry a nice Pakistani girl.

From there — above and around the prone and possibly doomed body of Emily — cultures clash, funny (and astonishingly cruel) things are said, bonding happens, shreds, comes together again, because, simply put, where there’s life, there’s hope. When there are hearts and minds there is always the possibly of rapprochement. (These days however, in real-life matters, I keep falling back on Bette Davis’ remark in All About Eve: “Everybody has a heart, except some people.”)

JUDD Apatow — whose movies often fall into an iffy category for me — is the producer. Take a bow, Mr. Apatow. Michael Showalter directs, marvelously (a total rebound from his misguided, 2015 entry, “Hello, My Name is Doris.”)

But the committed, heartfelt performances are what seal the deal. Kumail whom I have never seen before — sorry, I don’t watch “Silicon Valley” — is all kinds of funny and moving. Despite rather limited talking screen time, coma-girl Zoe Kazan is terrific. I loved Kumail’s parents, played by Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher.

Holly Hunter — as Emily’s mom — is one of those actors who presence and delivery is so unique, so nuanced, she need only to appear onscreen to give a maximum amount of pleasure. At the sound of her it-could-only-be-Holly-Hunter-voice, my cinematic salivary glands get in an uproar.

As for Ray Romano, as Emily’s deeply disapproving dad, this is, to me, a revelatory turn. He is truly great here. In fact, the chemistry between Romano and Hunter almost makes one wish for an entire film based on their characters.

Obviously, I highly recommend this movie. And because these are the doggish-days of August and my brain is overheated, I’ll even make some predictions. “The Big Sick” will be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and Screenplay. Kumail Nanjiani and Ray Romano will also nab nominations. And if I truly had my druthers, Ms. Hunter, as well.

There! Go see “The Big Sick” and feel better. There’s more than enough time to buckle down to Winston Churchill’s “dare and endure.”


LAST WEEK we received a nice email from a lady named Kathleen who says she loves our column but, ‘please stop writing about television — you seem like TV junkies!”

We wrote back, reporting that the very day we received her email, several others came in, encouraging us to keep up our small screen observations. One man’s meat, etc. Our non-TV-loving fan was amused and took it well. Especially as we admitted we are TV junkies! Never has there been so much quality and quantity to choose from. (Never so much crap, either, but that’s show biz.)

So, briefly. Last Sunday night’s “Game of Thrones” was epic! Finally, Dany’s dragons were put to proper use. (Well, you knew it was going to happen after Emilia Clarke’s Miss Targaryen snapped, “Enough with the clever plans!” as defeat loomed.)

Pacing on “GOT” this season has been incredible. Fewer episodes notwithstanding, HBO is doing right by the fans.

Also viewed on Sunday, the next-to-last episode of TNT’s “Claws” (season one finale this weekend.) Wow. This show has cooked to a comic/dramatic boil that is hell-bent on exploding brilliantly. It has been picked up for a well-deserved second season.

Niecy Nash, as trouble-prone Desna, who just wants to make the world more beautiful, one lacquered nail at a time, is magnificent.

Kathleen — I hope that wasn’t too much TV for you?

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