As the days get shorter and bright fall foliage fades to bare gray trees, we’re drawn to things that lift our mood.
In this spirit, the next free movie screening at Star Hall is a departure from the earnest documentaries shown in September and October. This month’s selection, playing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, is the recently released romantic comedy, “The Big Sick.”
Don’t be put off if the term “rom-com” makes your eyes roll: The movie is driven by clever humor, and its improbable plot is closely based on real events.
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani is the writer, producer, star and real-life basis of the movie. You may recognize him from roles in various comedy shows, including “Silicon Valley” and The Colbert Report.
In the movie, he plays … a comedian named Kumail.
Kumail is from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family, but he falls in love with a non-Muslim white woman named Emily. He can’t reconcile his sense of obligation to his family and his relationship with Emily, and the couple break up – but then, Emily is hospitalized for an unknown acute illness. Awkward, poignant humor ensues as Kumail confronts his still-thriving love for Emily, meets her parents and confesses his relationship to his own parents. The main plot is drawn directly from the lives of Nanjiani and his now-wife, Emily Gordon.
Utah Film Center Program Coordinator Davey Davis said “The Big Sick” is a hilarious and human examination of what happens when cultures collide in the name of love.
“A lot of stand-up comics have been delving into semi-autobiographical stories to good effect, but Kumail Nanjiani’s telling of meeting his real-life wife Emily Gordon is stranger than fiction, and makes for a wonderful romantic comedy,” Davis said.
While “The Big Sick” is heartwarming and will make you laugh, it could be interpreted as a pointed commentary on the current social and political climate. A quick scan of popular media acknowledges widespread conflict over immigration, and in particular, fears and misunderstandings of Muslim cultures.
The movie doesn’t zero in on the issue, but it does reference its existence. In one scene, shortly after Kumail has met Emily’s parents under strained circumstances, Emily’s father says to Kumail, “So, 9/11 – what’s your stance?” Uncomfortable, Kumail responds with an awkward joke.
A story about relatable characters navigating the clash between Westernized culture and traditional Muslim culture seems intentionally timely and political, but the producers claim that politics was not on their radar when they made the movie. In an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, Nanjiani said, “…when we shot it, it did not feel like a political statement to us.” He’s not being disingenuous – if you just want to enjoy a feel-good movie on a Thursday night, you won’t be disappointed.
However, the movie does invite conversation on the topic of the mainstream perception of Muslim culture in the U.S. And conversation is part of the point of the film series from the Utah Film Center and the Grand County Public Library at Star Hall.
Davis said the series is all about access to stories that will spark conversation when watched together in the community.
“It’s not so important that a film is serious or lighthearted; what’s important is that the films we play connect with the audience and bring them something new,” he said. “The library and the film center look at what has played in Moab on the big screen and try to great choose films across the spectrum that otherwise won’t be playing in the theater.”
Grand County Public Library Assistant Jessie Magleby, who co-organizes the Star Hall film screenings, said that film selection “focuses … on topics that are a part of the current national or local conversation, and expressed community interest.”
She describes “The Big Sick” as “charming, funny, and wise,” but warns that it contains “some salty language.”
The movie is certainly aimed at adult audiences – it has an “R” rating for language and sexual references – but among adults, it has something for everyone: genuine laughs, touching emotional scenes and social commentary.
“A lot of stand-up comics have been delving into semi-autobiographical stories to good effect, but Kumail Nanjiani’s telling of meeting his real-life wife Emily Gordon is stranger than fiction, and makes for a wonderful romantic comedy.”
When: Thursday, Nov. 16, at 7p.m.
Where: Star Hall, 159 E. Center St.
For more information about the free film series at Star Hall, go to: www.utahfilmcenter.org/events/category/moab/upcoming/.