THE BIG SICK (15, 120 mins)

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler. Director: Michael Showalter.

JUST when it seemed that heartfelt romantic comedies might be in terminal decline and doomed to labour on life support, along comes director Michael Showalter's uplifting and bittersweet tale of cross-cultural love.

Based on the real-life courtship of Pakistani-American stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V Gordon, who co-wrote the script, The Big Sick is a small, perfectly formed gem, which is polished to a dazzling glister by a superb ensemble cast.

Nanjiani plays himself to deadpan perfection and he catalyses molten screen chemistry with co-star Zoe Kazan as the luminous object of his awkward affections.

Their fledgling romance is sketched in delicate strokes and when this amour fou hits an almighty speed bump that compels Emily to tearfully confide "You make me sad inside my heart," we are devastated like her paramour.

The two-hour running time allows Nanjiani and Kazan to populate each unfussy frame with flawed, believable and endearing characters, who don't always know what to say to ease the pain of the people they adore.

Trickles of saltwater tears are mopped up with swathes of sincere, warm-hearted humour.

If laughter is the best medicine then a spoonful of Showalter's film is a tonic that leaves the sweetest feeling.

In 2006, Kumail (Nanjiani) hones his craft on the Chicago comedy scene with fellow stand-ups CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant) and Chris (Kurt Braunohler).

To pay the rent, Kumail works as a taxi driver and he enjoys precious family time with his father Azmat (Anupam Kher), brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) and mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff), who invites a different Pakistani Muslim woman to the dinner table each night as a potential love match.

After one comedy gig, Kumail meets spunky audience member Emily (Kazan) and there is a palpable spark of attraction.

Kumail keeps the relationship secret from his family, then Emily discovers a cigar box filled with photographs of women hand-picked by his mother.

"Are you judging Pakistan's next top model?" she inquires jokingly.

When Kumail nervously explains his parents' presumption of arranged marriage, Emily feels betrayed and tearfully asks "Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?"

"I don't know," he replies.

Soon after, Emily contracts a serious infection and doctors induce a medical coma.

It's left to Kumail to contact Emily's parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), and the trio bond awkwardly in the hospital waiting room and cafeteria.

The Big Sick wears its easily broken heart on its sleeve and elicits roaring belly laughs from the central duo's predicament.

The script generously distributes the best lines between the cast, including Hunter and Romano as delightfully protective parents with their own relationship woes.

Director Showalter nimbly sidesteps genre cliches, allowing the pithy and occasionally withering words to speak louder than his actions. 9/10