The dog days of summer are a good time to catch up on the season’s counterprogramming, the movies that somehow found an audience while competing against superhero sequels, commercial juggernauts, and the deserved success of Dunkirk. This year, the best of the rest has the worst possible title: It’s The Big Sick, a romantic comedy that escapes that genre’s present exhaustion by the novel method of putting its leading lady in a coma.
That lady is Emily (Zoe Kazan), a Chicago grad student who becomes an object of affection for Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), the son of Pakistani immigrants who’s disappointing his parents by pursuing a career in stand-up comedy while driving for Uber to pay the bills. They meet after she offers a friendly heckle during one of his stand-up performances and have a cute young-broke-urbanite courtship that ends, abruptly, when she discovers a cigar box filled with headshots of young Pakistani ladies in his apartment. What we already know, and what she discovers, is that Kumail’s parents (and particularly his steely mother, played in a great if underwritten turn by Zenobia Shroff) expect him to marry a woman who is both South Asian and Muslim, and while he’s rebelling against them he isn’t ready to imagine actually marrying outside his tribe.