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SIFF opening night gala: The Big Sick - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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SIFF opening night gala: The Big Sick
SIFF's capsule summary: "Based on the real-life courtship: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) fall in love, but they struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail must navigate the crisis with her parents and the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart." (US, 2017, 119 minutes)
Director Michael Showalter, actor/co-writer Kumail Nanjiani, co-writer Emily V Gordon scheduled to attend.
SIFF link: The Big Sick

Comedian Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan) fall in love, but complications develop in their romance. For one, Kumail is afraid to admit to his parents that he is in a relationship with Emily, and is not interested in an arranged marriage with any of the women they introduce him to. For another, Emily develops an illness that doctors struggle to diagnose.

9 Excellent Kumail Nanjiani and the real-life Emily Gordon co-wrote the script, which is inspired by their real-life romance, particularly her illness. But a true story isn't necessarily an interesting story. (My real-life relationship with "J" began with an initial moment of friction similar to a formula romantic comedy "meet-cute", but we have avoided the split-and-reunion part of the formula, and our relationship has avoided the sort of drama that makes good film.) I don't know what they changed about their real-life story, but they did an excellent job of choosing the entertaining parts and (presumably) inventing additional funny details.

Director Michael Showalter did his part too. The comedy timing is solid, and the dramatic side of the story holds up too, so we care about the characters. I'd say that the directing is very good, maybe excellent.

The acting is solid too. Kumail Nanjiani is a comedian playing a version of himself, and he's excellent on the comedy side, and very good on the dramatic side. Zoe Kazan is very good at both. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are excellent in the light comedy roles as Emily's parents; their parts were minimal on the dramatic side. Anupam Kher is outstanding as Kumail's father; he's one of India's top stars, with over 400 acting credits. Zenobia Shroff is very good as Kumail's mother, in a more comic role. Supporting characters, particularly Kumail's fellow struggling comedians, are solid too.

Overall, I rate the film excellent. Along with Spy two years, ago, it's one of the best SIFF openings I've attended.

Languages: English, and Urdu with English subtitles.

Rating: This film has a US rating of "R". Unless there was some strong language that slipped my notice, I can't imagine why that is; it seems like a "PG-13" film to me.

Screening: 7 pm, McCaw Hall.
Audience: mostly full, 2900 seats (advertised capacity).

Snacks: assorted party snacks.

Ads, promotions, and announcements:

  • SIFF campfire self-promotion clip. Nice.
  • Alaska Airlines – This promotion focuses on the "mystery" of the face on the tail of their planes.
  • Brotherton – Their sponsorship promotion isn't particularly memorable, but they're great local sponsors of SIFF.
  • Thank you, volunteers — An Italian couple by a waterfall in a black-and-white film. Time for applause.
  • First-year SIFF Managing Director Sarah Wilke, acting Artistic Director Beth Barrett, and board president Rich Fassio begin the announcements opening this year's festival.
  • Mayor Ed Murray says a few nice words to his husband, then presents the Mayor's Award to Lacey Leavitt.
  • Beth Barrett returned to introduce three people from the film: director Michael Showalter, co-writer and co-star Kumail Nanjiani, and co-writer Emily Gordon.
Bonus: my notes on the discussion after the film (paraphrases at best; my notes were pretty sloppy).

The question-and-answer was moderated by a guy named Simington (if I heard correctly), from IMDB. He reintroduced director Showalter and co-writers Nanjiani and Gordon.

Moderator: This is the fifth time I've watched the film, and I've missed some of the jokes every time. What did we miss while everyone was laughing at the "19 of our best guys" joke?

Answer: We added some filler apologies, because the medical plot reveal is important and we wanted to make sure people didn't miss it because we were laughing.

Nanjiani (I think): "Emily calls it a DVD joke."

What was the disease?
It's a type of arthritis that affects other organs. We just got a new diagnosis. This condition is more treatable than what we thought she had.

Holly and Ray were a great couple. She's really short, but didn't look that small on camera. How did you do that?
Holly had to stand closer to the camera. They used the same trick in Lord of the Rings.

How did you get Anupam Kher in the film?
Nanjiani: He's a top Bollywood film star with 500 film credits. I asked my father who he wanted to play him, and he said Anupam Kher. A friend connected me with him, and I sent the script. He sent back some requested changes, and we did some rewriting, and sent it back to him. He called back and said, "I haven't read the revision, but I appreciate the effort you made. I'm in."
He had immigration problems, and we had to keep pushing back his shooting days. Finally we talked to our friend [comedian] Amy Schumer, and had her dad [Senator] Chuck fix his immigration problems for us.

Nanjiani or Gordon: "We watched Four Weddings and a Funeral on our wedding day."

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 26 films (all features), 26 time slots, two parties. ("J": 16 films, two parties.)

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