Review: In ‘The Big Sick,’ Comedy Is Hard, Love Harder

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Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in “The Big Sick.”

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Sarah Shatz/Amazon Studios, Lionsgate

Love means having to say you’re sorry — early and often. That’s one of the truisms in “The Big Sick,” a joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy that, even as it veers into difficult terrain, insists that we just need to keep on laughing. Outwardly, the story seems familiar: A really nice guy falls for a woman he may not be worthy of and nearly blows it. What gives the movie both fizz and sting — and shows that there’s plenty of juice and possibility left in the American romantic comedy — are its particulars, especially the comic Kumail Nanjiani, who plays a fictionalized version of himself, a Pakistani-American struggling to make it in stand-up while fumbling through the rest of his life.

Mr. Nanjiani (who shares his name with his character) plays a 30-ish guy navigating these two seemingly irreconcilable worlds and identities. A fledgling Chicago stand-up, Kumail is a regular at a club where, alongside his comrades — played by the real-life funny people Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler — he routinely tries to make a roomful of people laugh. One evening, he teasingly mixes it up with a customer, Emily (a wonderful Zoe Kazan), a jittery charmer with a mile-wide smile whom he soon makes moves on. Flirtation leads to one and then another night together, and before long, they’re frolicking in one of those time-is-passing montages.

The real Emily is Emily V. Gordon, who’s married to Mr. Nanjiani. They wrote “The Big Sick” together — it was directed by Michael Showalter — creating comedy and drama from their lives. The story tracks the giddy start of their relationship, with its dazed smiles and intimacy, a romance that seems to collapse when she discovers that he hasn’t told his family about her. Kumail’s parents…

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