Rated R. Running time: 2 hours
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Honor your father and your mother,
so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love
all the wealth of one’s house,
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Solomon 8:7
Last year comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani had a small part in director’s Hello, My Name Is Doris. The director’s new film is based on the actor’s real-life actor’s courtship of his wife Emily. Both he and she, Emily V. Gordon wrote the screen play. Nanjiani plays himself, and Zoe Kazan plays Emily, the result being a dramedy that is as tender at times as it is funny, making this a welcome addition to the culture clash that immigrants to America experience.
Kumail (Nanjiani) has grown up in America and adapted to its ways, whereas his Pakistani mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), father Azmat (Anupam Kher) insists on the old ways, wanting him to accept one of the women whom they keep having “drop in” when he joins them for a weekly dinner. His brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), and sister-in-law Fatima (Shenaz Treasurywala) also pressure him. He has been doing stand-up comedy gigs while letting his parents think he will go into one of the professions that will guarantee a high standard of living.
All is fairly well (except for the fact of his deception of pretending to go off to pray in the basement, he not being sure what he believes) until he meets cute Emily (Kazan) during one of his gigs. They start going together, but she is wary at first because of her bad divorce. In her eyes they are just hanging out together. But as they grow closer and thus more serious, he still has not told his parents about her. He does confide in his brother, who warns him not to continue the relationship, that their parents might disown him.
Each time his parents introduce a new marriage prospect, Kumail receives another large glossy photo of her. Instead of discarding them, he drops them in a closed box resting on a table in his bedroom. When Emily discovers them, she jumps to the wrong conclusion and storms out of his apartment, ignoring his entreaty to explain himself. She refuses all of his phone calls. And then succumbs to a mysterious ailment that apparently began earlier when she had hurt her leg while out shopping with Kumail.
Emily had his name and address in her purse, so the hospital summons him, whereupon he claims to be her husband so that they legally can begin immediately to work on her. The procedure requires that the doctors put her into a coma. Her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter), arrive and keep Kumail at arm’s length because Emily has told them about her lover and their break-up. They try to dismiss Kumail, but he persists, sitting across the waiting room from them so that he can learn of Emily’s condition.
The doctors are at a loss to explain Emily’s strange malady. The anxious parents eventually motion in the cafeteria for Nanjiani to join them. They slowly warm to him, though later he disagrees with their decision to move Emily to a hospital whose doctor they have more trust in. Matters go in the opposite direction with Kumail and his parents, who once they learn of his deception no longer want to see him.
How all this works out is handled well, one of the reconciliations especially touching in an understated way. The story is laden with humor, some of it touching on our cultural misunderstanding or bias. An example is Terry’s fumbling attempt to reach out to the Muslim Kumail about the 9/11 tragedy in the hospital cafeteria. He says, “No I mean, I’ve always wanted to have a conversation with [gestures at Kumail] people.” Kumail replies, “You’ve never talked to people about 9/11?” No what’s your, what’s your stance?” and Kumail says, “What’s my stance on 9/11? Oh um, anti. It was a tragedy, I mean we lost 19 of our best guys.” The surprised Beth interjects, “Huh?” Kumail, “That was a joke, obviously. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy. And it’s not funny to joke about it.”
This delightful comedy, skirting close to tragedy, provides us with an enjoyable opportunity to enter the Asian immigrant experience. That it can be painful for both the older generation and their off-spring is well shown. It is impossible to follow the traditional ways in an open society such as ours, and yet the children must tread carefully if they want to maintain familial relationships. This is a problem or theme as old as talking movies, 1927’s The Jazz Singer dealing with the conflict of an Orthodox Jewish cantor at odds with his son who wants to sing jazz. As long as there is intercultural interchange there will be such conflicts, and it will be incumbent upon filmmakers such as Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani to bring us understanding and empathy to newcomers to our shores.
This review with a set of questions is in the Aug. 2017 issue of VP.