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Zoe Kazan continues a strong run of performances with “The Big Sick”

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Zoe Kazan. For my money, she’s among the best actresses working in the business right now, and almost undoubtedly one of the most underrated. She is truly something special. This Friday, she displays that talent again in The Big Sick, one of 2017’s finest films so far. I plan on raving more about the flick in a couple of days, but at the moment, I want to make it more about Kazan, since she’s one of the strongest aspects of the movie. Without her, it just doesn’t work the way that it does. Here’s hoping that one day her efforts are justly rewarded. She certainly deserves it.

Again, I’ll have more to say about The Big Sick in a few days, but here again is a summation. This film is based on the real life relationship between Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. We’re introduced to the latter as Kumail (Nanjiani playing himself) is toiling as a struggling stand up. When he’s heckled in the crowd by Emily (Zoe Kazan), an instant spark is there. Neither wants to commit to anything serious, but neither can deny the chemistry they share. At the same time, Kumail is dealing with an endless parade of Pakistani women that his mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) is inviting over for the dinner, in the hopes of an arranged marriage. That pressure eventually spills over and ends things for Emily and Kumail, but when the former winds up in the hospital, it’s Kumail who has to sign papers putting her in a medically induced coma. Emily’s parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) then arrive, ready to send their daughter’s ex on his way. Something in him tells him to stay though, and as Emily fights for her life, Kumail gets to know Beth and Terry, seeing an influence on Emily that he never realized. I won’t say where it goes, but considering the real life people are pretty public about things, you should be able to guess. Michael Showalter directs a script that Gordon and Nanjiani co-wrote together. Also in the cast are Adeel Akhtar, Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, Anupam Kher, and more. Judd Apatow produces.

Kazan is brilliant in the film. Though missing from it for a solid section, her impact lingers. There’s a spark to her portrait of Gordon that remains throughout. It’s a credit to her that she’s on your mind as much as she is the other characters’ minds. This is an example of positively perfect casting. Kazan is terrific here, and even if there are a few other performances throughout her career that I’ve raved about even more loudly, this is still top tier work. If The Big Sick manages to become an Oscar player, fingers crossed that she gets a bit of a push in Best Supporting Actress.

As I’ve said before, remember that Kazan is not just an actress, but a writer as well. Her screenplay for Ruby Sparks is one of the sharpest feature debut scripts in recent memory. She’s also co-writing the adaptation of Wildlife, the directorial debut of Paul Dano. Frankly, it seems like only a matter of time until she makes her own feature film directorial debut. When that happens, I have no doubt it will be a top notch outing. For now, she’s a multi hyphenate on the rise. Her acting is unimpeachable, with her writing so far just as good. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Here are what I consider to be Kazan’s ten best performances to date:

1. The Pretty One
2. Ruby Sparks
3. The Exploding Girl
4. The Monster
5. What If
6. The Big Sick
7. Some Girl(s)
8. Happythankyoumoreplease
9. Meek’s Cutoff
10. In Your Eyes

Honorable Mentions: Me and Orson Welles, My Blind Brother, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and Revolutionary Road

Be sure to stay tuned for more on Kazan and The Big Sick before the week is out!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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