The truth hurts, but it’s also funnier. The Big Sick, the new film from director Michael Showalter and the screenwriting debuts of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon opens in limited release this week. Its unique blend of hipster humor and utter heartbreak

Kumail (Nanjiani) is a struggling stand up comedian working the circuit in Chicago. He supports himself driving Uber and a few odd paying stand up gigs here and there while he works to try to get a coveted spot at the Montreal Comedy Festival.

Kumail’s other struggles center very firmly around his family. A Pakistani immigrant, Kumail comes from a family very steeped in the traditions of his home country. This manifests itself, most annoyingly for Kumail, in a constant stream of arranged dates and introductions with a stream of eligible Pakistani women – one of whom, he’s supposed to marry.

His world becomes complicated when he’s heckled Emily (Zoe Kazan), an audience member at one of his shows. They meet at the bar after his set and find themselves beginning an undefined romance that quickly turns into much more.

This creates a mighty struggle for Kumail, as dating a white American woman does not fit with his family’s vision for him so he must keep it a secret. This, and Kumai’s own self-doubts, create a rift between Emily and Kumail that leads to their splitting up. However, soon after their break-up, Emily ends up in a coma and Kumail is forced back into her life as well as the life of her parents.

From this point, a very interesting story unfolds. How do you fall in love with a comatose woman through her parents? How does that incredibly weird dynamic of meeting your girlfriend’s parents post break-up work? What the hell is going on here? Oh, wait? This is true?

It’s the true story aspect of The Big Sick that really allows this film to exist. The circumstances of the film are so unusual (and actually unbelievable) that only knowing it’s a true story really allows it to work. And work it does. Really well.

It’s on multiple levels where The Big Sick is effective. Its main storyline is an incredibly unusual and affecting love story where its lead is in such a strange circumstance that even though many can’t relate to it, it almost forces the audience to see the world squarely through the character’s emotions. Kumail is the way into this story and his character is so relatable, even if his situation isn’t, that suddenly the whole crazy story seems like something we’ve all experienced.

There’s a second layer where it works as well and that is the ethnic-family comedy that explores the Pakistani-American culture in a fun and insightful way that hasn’t been seen in American comedies yet. Its new perspective helps increase the film’s relevance and depth.

The performances are wonderful in this film. Kumail Nanjani proves a capable leading man and Zoe Kazan’s take on the manic pixie dream girl is far more down to earth than normal and deeply layered. But it’s Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as the befuddled parents who are the real stand-outs. Both are Oscar worthy in the role of Romano’s career and Hunter’s best in years.

Altogether, The Big Sick is a wonderful film with multiple reasons to love it that all work together extremely well. It’s a bit long in parts but its blend of raw emotion, new insights and big laughs make it an excellent comedy.

And funny because it’s true.

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