Contains Minor Spoilers
Based on the real-life relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a cross-cultural romantic comedy about Pakistani stand-up comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) who begins a relationship with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) while at the same time, fending off numerous women that his mother has set him up with for an eventual arranged marriage. Finding out that there’s realistically no future with Kumail, given his strict Muslim family’s insistence of a marriage to a Pakistani girl, Emily ends the relationship but is soon put into a medically induced coma at the hospital when she develops Still’s disease and Kumail stays to help look after her, alongside her parents Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), and must face the possibility of being banished from his family as a result of dating a non-Pakistani girl.
The Big Sick is an impressively funny film; there are tons of jokes and humorous moments to be found and, though not without a couple of misses, a great deal of them hit their mark and there were clear sections where I was constantly smiling (plus, the screening that I attended very often erupted with laughter). As well as all the hilarity, the film also handles its slower, more heartfelt moments remarkably well, allowing us to genuinely feel for the characters while never being obvious or crossing that line into mawkishness and emotional manipulation, thanks to the finely tuned writing, direction and acting.
The story elements relating to Pakistani culture and religion are brought to life very well, allowing a definite respect for the important, sacred beliefs but also allowing us to see both sides of the coin as Kumail, whilst respecting those beliefs and not thinking any less of his family because of them, yearns to live his life in his own way and to find true happiness by avoiding arranged marriage and perusing a proper relationship with Emily. It is certainly reminiscent of the “Religion” episode of Master of None (the whole film also reminded me of Israel’s Beauty and the Baker TV series) as it looks at the importance of long-held beliefs and how a younger generation may want to break away from them somewhat, living their lives honouring their parents’ way of life but finding their own unique path as well.
It’s also refreshing to note that The Big Sick is often quite unpredictable and never really goes in a way that you’d obviously expect; there are times when a character looks to be on the verge of spouting a trailer-worthy, schmaltzy line about love but then just makes an unexpected, but very effective, joke. You constantly wonder if Kumail’s family will expel him from the family or not. And even with the knowledge that the real-life Emily indeed survived, there are moments where we prepare for the worst as it appears that something tragic may very well happen to Emily. So the film admirably avoids those feared cliche ridden plot holes and gives us something fresh and original that is more concerned with telling a (fictionalized) real life story about real people than just another obvious moneymaking rom-com. There are no “easy answers” with this film and that’s down to the honest, clever writing and passionate, unshowy performances.
Silicon Valley‘s Kumail Nanjiani is really quite wonderful in the leading role; he is constantly funny, likeable, brave, charming, sometimes bumbling and socially awkward, and Nanjiani clearly believes in the material that he’s written – everything you could want in a leading man for a film such as this – and opposite him, Zoe Kazan is equally as affable and likeable, giving another finely tuned performance that greatly adds to the film’s impact. Nanjiani and Kazan are a wonderful pairing, surely one of the more appealing “romcom couples” that we’ve seen in many years; they bounce the zingers off each other brilliantly and so great is their chemistry that I often struggled to work out whether Kazan was actually the real-life Emily or not.
Ray Romano and Holly Hunter provide the main supporting performances and they are also great together, another reason why the film works so well. Romano gets the mix of comedy and pathos just about right, it’s refreshing to see him in a role that’s much different than anything we’ve seen him in before, and Hunter is a credible maternal presence, going from being quite cold and distant in the beginning (for understandable reasons) to warming up to Kumail and providing the film with both the laughs and the feels. Kumail’s family and fellow comedians are also genuinely funny and nice and overall, the film has a lovely bunch of
coconuts characters and there definitely isn’t a “bad guy”. Apart from that one ignorant heckler maybe.
Also, is Ray Romano really tall or is Holly Hunter just REALLY small? Or both?
As for the negatives, the film runs on for a bit too long as towards the end, it treads slightly familiar ground as the jokes dry up and it seems as though there is quite a bit of padding, unsure of when it should end. Even though the characters keep us invested in the story, the final act seems quite drawn out and overlong.