TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Saturday, August 12, 2017

At The Movies With A Law School Dean: The Big Sick

Big SickNick Allard (Dean, Brooklyn) reviews The Big Sick:

This morning I enjoyed the fascinating experience of meeting our two dozen plus newest LLM students from all over the world; meaning five continents because, this year Australia is unrepresented and, though warming, Antarctica is still too cold to harvest lawyers for graduate legal studies in America.  After I welcomed this amazing cohort and sincerely described how much they enrich the Law School experience for all of us in our increasingly global field of law, I took questions.  The very first question was from a Colombian woman who asked — I am not making this up — “Can you recommend any good movies for us to watch before classes start?”

Without any hesitation, I suggested that they make time to see the new film, The Big Sick: a very deft, captivating, Romeo and Juliet of a romcom, exquisitely and appealingly acted by comedian-writer Kumail Nanjiani, playing a version of himself, and Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of Director Elia Kazan) in the role of Emily, who brilliantly rewrites and updates the great Diane Keaton playbook for adorable quirkiness.

There is even, sort of, a tie-in to law school that might make enjoying the film less of a guilty pleasure for hard driven, aspiring lawyers.  Two of the biggest laughs come when Kumail lies rather lamely that the reason he failed to answer the 17 phone messages from his domineering mother was that he was studying for the LSAT.  Later, performing at his small potatoes, Chicago based comedy club, he brings down the house by explaining why he chose to lie about wanting to become a lawyer rather than pretending he was studying for a profession much more exalted by his family, such as becoming a doctor or an engineer.  In his family’s eyes at least lawyers and hundreds of other jobs stand above ISIS and even more so, above comedians who own the bottom rung of society.

Although the male lead's autobiographical Pakistani family and ethnic community are a bit of a caricatured and Disneyfied matriarchy,  along the lines of My Big Fat Greek WeddingThe Best Exotic Magnolia Hotel, and even television's The Jefferson's,  they are portrayed most often seated around their elegant suburban dining room table as stable, successful, well-off, and ultimately appealing figures, much more complex and real than, say, the Midwestern Montague WASPs and the New York Capulet Jews in Woody Allen's Annie Hall -- and every bit as funny.  The film’s hint that they are fundamentally kind, loving, inclusive people is apparently true to their real life alter egos and suggests ample material for a good sequel.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are pitch perfect as the continuously surprising, deep, off beat “other parents” struggling with their own marriage, cluelessness, and lack of fulfillment, who nonetheless possess irrepressible innate, beguiling decency.  Try as they might to hold down their good qualities while they wallow in pools of self-absorbed anger and pathos, their virtues keep popping up like unsinkable life-saving channel markers.  Along the way, they too are hilarious and insidiously likable.

Not one thing about this movie is predictable, including the seamless interweaving of the intimate, fascinating, often brutally dark world of standup comedy with the other story lines of an exceptionally fresh, realistic film. One does wonder why Kumail is the only Muslim family member expected to pray (which he avoids surreptitiously) and how observant Muslims will view his irreverence in the film.  Still, just about the only flaw is the puzzling title of the film which misleads audiences by either giving them no clue as to what to expect, or leads audiences to believe they will be seeing a sequel to The Hangover, or maybe Bridesmaids. Warning: no slapstick involved. No need to check your brains or heart at the box office.

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