04/01/2018

The Big Sick - Try Too Hard Comedy?

Quick Thoughts: The Big Sick (2017)

A comic's relationship ends abruptly, but, when his girlfriend falls ill, it all seems far from over.


The Big Sick is an ok film; I wasn't too interested in seeing this and didn't have high expectations, but this is about a mark above a throw away movie. I wasn't very interested in seeing this because of the premise alone: An awkward, want-to-be stand-up comedian falls in love with a girl, but, she's white and he's brown... dun-dun-dun. What's more, this film didn't catch my eye because I know Kumail Nanjiani's stand-up, and it's really not too good. Much like Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, Bo Burnham, Paul Mooney and Amy Schumer, Nanjiani's kind of comedy often deals with facade and identity on a very surface level. Many of the jokes that you get from these comedians then follows the pattern of: ''something, something, something... I'm brown!'', ''something, something, something... I'm a woman!'', something, something, something... I'm a Jew!'', ''something, something, something... I'm black!'', or, ''something, something, something... I'm a white guy!''. This kind of comedy would work for me if only yesterday I ran into a brown or black person, a Jew, white guy, or a woman for the first time. So, I came into The Big Sick with a hope that this wasn't all I was going to get, but a feeling that I just might.

In the end, a good percentage of this film is just a repetition of ''I'm from Pakistan and most of the stereotypical ideas you hold about me and my family are pretty true!''. However, with a hint of self-awareness, the cliched nature of this is embraced and skipped past to a good degree. I then ultimately have no real complaints about this aspect of the movie beyond the fact that it is quite far from profound. The characters and plot are engaging - sometimes affecting - and so this genuity is strengthened by the script and much of the non-comedic aspects of the narrative.

My only gripes with The Big Sick concern the manner in which stand-up and stand-up comedians are incorporated into everything through direction and editing. In short, the stand-up is never funny and the supporting comedians all do a poor job. As with the racial themes, expectations are not attempted to be surpassed when we see stand-up - this isn't trying to be the funniest thing ever just like it isn't trying to provide powerful social commentary. However, every time more than one stand-up comedian is on screen, it feels like everyone thinks that they're Paul Rudd and Seth Rogan ad-libbing in The 40 Year Old Virgin:


In most Judd Apatow movies, you can feel that Apatow is off camera, laughing his head off, allowing his actors to go on and on and on, telling variations of their jokes into oblivion. This way of shooting scenes has become more and more evident and common in comedies since Apatow found success with it so many times - just look to the likes of Deadpool and you not only see a movie that was filmed in this way (with a bunch of comedic ad-libbing) but one that has scenes where the ad-libbing and the effort put into it is very, very evident. Throughout The Big Sick, scenes feel stitched together and the comedy forced. Capturing the worst of what the Apatow movies do, we are then given scenes in which Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Nanjiani stand around and riff with a strong air of pretense and self-satisfaction about them. The result of this is often a lack of laughter from this side of the screen, and all because we shouldn't feel like we're watching a bunch of comedians try to be funny.

And that is ultimately the biggest issue with this movie: it's trying too hard to be funny and making an awkward job of it. The Big Sick is not a complete dud as there are one or two good jokes, but, in my opinion, this isn't funny enough for all its efforts. This try-too-hard comedy is all emphasised by the acting, writing and even the sound design as there are countless moments of, not necessarily bad, but gratingly obvious ADR (automated dialogue replacement, or some form of voice over/dubbing). Moreover, even the blocking of scenes breaks the continuity and atmosphere of the cinematic space as, when we don't see an actor's or actress' face as they're talking in a over-the-shoulder dialogue scene, their head and jaw doesn't seem to be moving. This indicates that they're not speaking, ADR is in use or that a mere reaction shot of the person they're talking to has been yanked out of sequence and edited back in. For these technical issues, it is quite undeniable that this has not been planned, directed, acted or edited very well. The lesson of The Big Sick is then, partly, one in how not to preserve scenes and how not to capture natural and seemingly effortless comedy.

In the end, whilst this film has some issues and isn't worth any awards, it is watchable and quite a bit of fun. But, those are just my thoughts. Have you seen The Big Sick? What did you think of it or anything we've talked about today?






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