2 STARS – Empty
The true life romance of Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (self) with his now wife Emily (Zoe Kazan) has a pervasive emptiness. The reasons for that are several, but not the least of which is Kumail’s rejection of his Muslem faith and cultural traditions. Having accepted the sexual promiscuity of the American dating life, Kumail quickly takes his new friend to bed. As she leaves in the early morning, Kumail jokes that they haven’t had follow-up sex to which Emily responds that she is not that kind of girl, she only has sex once on the first date.
Written by Kumail with the assistance of screenwriter Emily V. Gordon the story takes us into the small comedy shop in Chicago where Kumail is attempting to launch his career. This metanarrative is laced with the chance meeting and developing romance of Kumail and Emily. Picking her up by writing her name in the Urdu language of Pakistan, she challenges his pickup line causing the chemistry to increase. However, the inevitable conflict between the Pakistani tradition of arranged marriages, a task Kumail’s mother takes very seriously, clashes with the love relationship Kumail has formed on his own. It is this struggle that creates the deeper tension of the story.
Though we won’t spoil how all of this works together, it is clear by the title of the film that illness is a major part of the adventure. As is often the case, when the one we love is threatened to be taken from us, we enter into a place that is different from normal romance. It is also in this experience that Kumail meets Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Ramano). It is in their relationship that we experience both the grace and love around which the film resolves itself.
The disappointments in the film are not only in its immorality but also in its lack of humor. Expecting that the life of a comedian as well as the inclusion of commedian Ray Ramano as Emily’s father would be filled with laughter. However, there are only a few times when the humor rises to more than a smile. This is perhaps due to the type of humor Kumail does, but it is also due to the overly serious manner in which the story is told. The R rating is well deserved due to language and sexual references but there is no nudity.
- The chemistry between Kumail and Emily is not usual. Did you find their banter believable? Why or why not?
- Depicting his childhood in Pakistan with humor is countered by Kumail’s attempt to do a serious one-man play teaching about his home country. Do you think it was this internal conflict that harmed Kumail’s comedy or did you find him a more complex character because of it?
- The decision of Kumail’s mother to reject him as a son because he won’t allow her to arrange his wedding to a Pakistani girl is painful to watch. What do you think will happen in the decades to come, especially when the grandchildren are born?