‘The Big Sick’ Is a Hilarious Remedy for Trump-Distracted Sundance

Kumail Nanjiani shines with help from Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano

Last Updated: January 21, 2017 @ 8:14 AM

After a day of Trump distractions, the lingering sobriety of “An Inconvenient Sequel,” the looming Women’s March on Main Street and an assault of rain and snow — Sundance delivered the home run the Sundance Film Festival needed.

It’s “The Big Sick,” a deserved leading man turn for “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani directed by Michael Showalter and produced by Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel.

It’s a Hollywood version of the funny, sweet and sad story of Nanjiani and wife Emily Gordon. The pair wrote the screenplay together, though Zoe Kazan ably takes Gordon’s role on screen.

Nanjiani plays himself, or as close to himself as a film version of his life might allow, a struggling Pakistani stand up comic in Chicago pretending to be a devout Muslin for his family’s sake. He also suffers through his doting mother’s many attempts to set him up in an arranged marriage.

Movie Kumail escapes inside his American male identity by night, enjoying even his shortcomings as it gives him material to compete with against his frenemy fellow comics.

When Kazan’s Emily comes to one of his shows, a bumbling pick-up gimmick sets their courtship in motion until she discovers he hasn’t said a word of the beautiful white girl he’s dating to his traditional family — and doesn’t really intend to. Their breakup comes as an ugly confirmation of a seemingly immovable cultural divide.

That’s until a friend of Emily’s calls Kumail — she’s been rushed to the hospital with a mystery illness and no one can get to her, and would he go to her bedside? Call her parents?

The stakes ratchet up considerably as her illness becomes more serious. He’s forced to console her parents (amazing turns from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), engage with her doctors and take an earful from Hunter about how badly he hurt her daughter.

This is not a drama. The film clocks almost a laugh-a-minute and all of them are well-earned, but it’s in this sort of bedside care that Kumail begins to learn what he might want from his life, not his passive routine of apologizing for everything he doesn’t.

There are a few conventions here that are recognizable from the Apatow universe — Kumail loves B horror movies and uses them as a barometer for his women.

“I love it when guys test my taste,” Kazan says when he shows her a Vincent Price film from the ’60s. It’s a deadpan line that rails against the idea that women have to like or approve of what their men do to be considered worthy. Park City’s Eccles Theater erupted in applause over that, as they did over several other moments.

There would also seem to be a trademark Apatow shrill-lady-freakout from the big breakup scene — where not only does the budding psychologist Emily lose it entirely, but Nanjiani says to her, “Aren’t you a therapist? Shouldn’t you be better at handling this?”

It feels like a low blow that she can’t be furious and good at her job at the same time, but in fairness, breaking up is hard to do. And the real-life couple, now married 10 years, laid it all bare to beautiful effect.

UTA and FilmNation are handling sales for the project, and will likely be fielding offers into the wee hours of Saturday.