Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani & Emily Gordon
Review Author: Shaun
Rating: 4/5 fruity cocktails
A much-needed step away from the blockbuster films see’s us jump over to the latest Romantic Comedy. Most of us tend to avoid these as the genre stem from years of cringe-inducing clichés, story structure re-treads, and inane dialogue – all of which is usually accompanied by acting that comes across as significantly short of believable. So when a rom-com hits the silver screen and it provides emotionally dramatic moments, organically generated laughter and multiple characters that we genuinely care about … expect the accolades to start flowing.
Real life husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon have collaborated on the script; an autobiographical re-telling of the saga known as the beginning of their relationship. It’s a story that starts simply enough with a meet-cute in a Chicago comedy club where Pakistani-American Kumail is performing his stand-up routine between Uber-driving shifts, with Emily is in the audience firing off some mild heckling which progresses to flirting and then … well, an activity that leads to both saying “this can’t happen again”.
Director Michael Showalter continues to prove that he doesn’t mind breaking the mold for relationship movies. Hello, My Name is Doris was one of last year’s more creative films in this genre, and now Showalter has taken another step forward with this true life script. Kumail plays himself, and rather than a larger-than-life presence, he comes across as exactly life size. Zoe Kazan plays Emily. The two actors are believable together (and apart) and allow us to buy into them as a couple – and as not a couple. Their relationship shines a spotlight on religious and cultural challenges and family pressures that those from a traditional Muslim family carry. For some, moving to the U.S. doesn’t override religious and cultural traditions such as arranged marriages and preferred professions. The script addresses this beautifully and without pulling punches – although some humour does help.
The supporting cast is excellent and plays a substantial role in the story, especially as Emily (Kazan) lays quietly ill in the hospital. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play her parents, and deliver an emotional wallop, even while dealing with their own marital issues – one of which allows Romano and Kumail to bond a bit. Kumail’s parents are played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, while his brother is played by Adeel Akhtar. They each capture the shock and disappointment that follows when Kumail seems to choose Emily over the family. Since this is a rare multi-dimensional script where characters can’t just be labeled “boyfriend” or “best friend”, Kumail’s cohorts at the comedy club are played by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, and David Alan Grier – each bringing more depth to the story.
Expect the best giraffe and 9/11 jokes you’ve likely ever heard, but mostly rejoice in the graceful balance between life and death, comedy found in daily life, and the real relationship struggles. It’s not even the first coma-centric romantic-comedy but here, the human feelings on screen remind us that most decisions in life are complex, and we all make mistakes of the heart. Kumail is caught in “no man’s land” between family obligations and his own identity. Hopefully life hasn’t stuck you in Kumail’s spot – hanging out in the hospital waiting room with the parents of your ex as she lay comatose down the hall as you slowly come to realize that she’s the girl of your dreams, it may not sound like the makings of a traditional rom-com, but that’s what makes it so exceptional.