The Big Sick (2017) centers around a Pakistan-born standup comedian Kumail, played by the same Kumail Nanjiani, and his struggle finding compromise between his career, culture, and romantic feelings for graduate student Emily, played by Zoe Kazan.
The exposition sets up the charming connection between Kumail and Emily. The chemistry the two characters share is simple, emotional and charismatic. Scenes like when they first sleep together, or the classic sit-on-the-couch-to-watch-a-movie-but-not-really, are grounded in a reality that anyone can relate to.
And you want to know why? It’s because The Big Sick is co-written by Kumail and the real-life Emily V. Gordon, who are a real-life married couple. Nothing like real-life to inspire a based-off-true-events fictional story. I recommend taking a read of Jen Yamato’s profile piece of the two stars by the Los Angeles Times (STORY).
The most intriguing part of the article is Gordon describing casting the movie version of herself: “It was quite easy, quite frankly. She clearly did the best job. I just had to put on my grown-up lady pants and say, ‘This is my job, to watch all these ladies flirt with my husband and figure out which one does it the best!’”
The opening thirty minutes of The Big Sick shines a soft light on the deeper undertones and motifs. For example, Emily touching on the idea of Kumail meeting her parents is a constant procrastination point for the central figure. While we get a taste as to why, the pace that which director Michael Showalter and writers Nanjiani and Gordon reveal the deeper meanings for Kumail’s decisions makes the passionate punches later in the film land even harder.
The fulcrum of The Big Sick tilts when Emily gets sick and put into a medically induced coma. The hospital trip coincides right after the couple broke up over a cigar box containing hidden passport photos given to Kumail by his mom. This is the punch-in-the-gut moment where the audience is thrusted into Kumail’s internal struggle of maintaining his family’s Pakistani culture and his own personal values.
Hunter’s performance as Emily’s mom is hilarious. We see her start off as the over-protective mother who has some not-so-subtle animosity towards her daughter’s ex-boyfriend before growing into having a true appreciation for Kumail. When he sits down with her and simply says, “I think I made a mistake with your daughter,” it is humble and oh-so-real.
Romano and Nanjiani combine for the most memorable scene in the movie. With Terry staying at Kumail’s apartment, the stressed-out father unleashes a guilty tale that puts his host in an uncomfortable spot. The conversation the two share is something many friendships can relate to, but more importantly it shows that just because you grow older, you don’t have all the answers. Terry is working through his issues while also trying to give Kumail sage advice, resulting in the most relatable three lines of dialogue.
Terry: Out loud, it sounds stupid. Uh, it’s… Yeah, that’s terrible advice. Love, love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love.
Kumail: I don’t really get that either.
Terry: I know. I thought I could just start saying something and something smart would come out.
The Big Sick thrives on blending reality with movie escapism. It’s an odd combination that I tend to relate mostly to fantasy films with grounded themes, but credit to Showalter, Gordon and Nanjiani for creating this fantastic watch.
Stepping away from Emily’s parents and towards Kumail’s family, the tone switches from balancing on the beam of anxiety, to that of avoiding explosive domestic landmines.
Much like in Aziz Ansari’s Master Of None Netflix series, The Big Sick explores how a child discovers and breaks away from his/her parents’ deep bond with heritage. Kumail’s mother thrusts the idea of arranged marriage and daily prayer onto him until finally there is a breaching point where the views of different generations collide. I can only imagine this conversation taking place between Nanjiani and his real-world parents; the way it is portrayed and the constant battle seems to be heavily footed in the “based on true events” realm.
One final thing. The ending to this movie is PERFECT. It’s a fantastic callback (standup comedian term, golf clap) to the beginning of Kumail and Emily’s relationship. The Big Sick is a rare case where they tease a perfectly competent ending, then just add onto it with an even more moving conclusion. Nearly had me grabbing the tissues. Sentimental. Real. Hopeful. Just awesome.
STANKO RATING: A