Movie review: 'The Big Sick'

Brad Keefe

It's taken a while, but we finally have the first great comedy of 2017 in “The Big Sick.”

This summer's attempts at comedy have been notably bad, from “Baywatch” to “The House” to “Rough Night.”

But this Judd Apatow-produced romantic comedy proves that having plenty of heart and smarts can elevate a film.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani of “Silicon Valley”) is a Pakistani-born comic living in Chicago. He's talented and working the Second City standup grind while sleeping on an inflatable mattress and driving an Uber on the side.

He's also facing pressure from his parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, both wonderful) to commit to a traditional arranged marriage, even as he feels removed from both his native culture and religion.

He meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she inadvertently “heckles” him at a show. The two hook up with no real plans for anything more serious, but soon they're falling in love.

As Kumail wonders how to navigate family pressures and a growing relationship with his white girlfriend, Emily suddenly falls mysteriously and seriously ill.

“The Big Sick” was written by Kumail and his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon based on their real-life romance, and that connection pours out of the material. This script is funny, smart and self-aware.

Comedic actor Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”) makes his feature-film debut behind the camera, and his direction is near perfect and amazingly nuanced. He manages a lot of moving parts here and swings from silly comedy to heart-wrenching emotion in ways that always feel deeply natural and real.

And it's that realness that makes “The Big Sick” so great. From the cross-cultural angle to the daily struggles in the life of a comedian to complex romance and family relationships, the human aspect is never lost — even while we're laughing.

Nanjiani anchors the film with a performance that both shows his comic talents and reveals a deeply personal side. His interactions with his family are a funny window into the world of second-generation immigrants.

Kazan again proves to be one of the most underrated actresses (see her in “Ruby Sparks,” please), and when Emily's parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) enter the mix, we get two more superb performances.

It's similar in tone to the best comedy of last year, Mike Birbiglia's “Don't Think Twice,” and it may just capture the title of the best comedy of 2017.

“The Big Sick”

Now playing, expands Thursday

4 stars out of 5