*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
The Big Sick is one of the many, many, many movies to have fallen victim to poor marketing choices, but it almost does the film a favor. The film was shown to audiences as a very fun romantic comedy, with an emphasis on the comedy since the lead actor Kumail Nanjiani is a well known stand-up comedian. While the film definitely is funny, and the romance between Nanjiani and costar Zoe Kazan is an adorably sweet one, the actual story gets deep in a way that I certainly was not expecting when I bought my tickets. A part of me assumed that it would be like any stand-up comedy show, just maybe with a story added to it (almost like a musical based around a band’s CD like “Tommy” or “Across the Universe”), but some well-rounded performances and the honesty of the humor that there was kept the story sweet enough that it could be a rom-com, but also deep enough that you don’t feel that the story is completely cliche and unoriginal.
Kumail Nanjiani is an up-and-coming stand-up comedian from Pakistan who is attempting to put his name out in the world while dodging his mother’s continued attempts to arrange his marriage to a Pakistani girl. At one of his shows he meets Emily Gardner (Kazan), a graduate student studying to become a therapist, and the two fall in love until their cultures begin to clash. When Emily ends up in the hospital with a mysterious illness and Kumail must agree to put her into a medically induced coma, he is thrust into a world where he must navigate Emily’s illness, meeting her parents for the first time, and meeting the expectations of his parents to marry. Throughout all of this he contemplates what he truly believes in and who he is in relation to his culture, and whether or not it is worth the family fallout to admit that he has fallen in love with a white girl.
You may be unaware walking into this film, as I was, that this story is not a complete work of fiction. Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon, co-wrote the script and told the true story of how they met and (eventually) married, with a few minor exceptions. This dynamic of truth is probably the greatest selling point of the film, since it toed the line of being a cliche love story. It keeps all of the relationships believable, probably aided by the fact that whenever someone was confused about what they were meant to be feeling in any given situation, they could ask someone who’d been in the situation personally. Not only is the sweet romance between Nanjiani and Kazan realistic, but the tension between Emily Gardner’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), who are going through their own marital problems, and the family dynamic of Nanjiani’s overbearing parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) and brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) all seem as though they are being flawlessly translated. You enjoy watching the story unfold because you can believe in the way it is being presented to you, and that keeps it from becoming too cloying or underwhelming. The humor of the film is also very fresh and realistic, so whenever you do end up laughing, the movie has earned it. The laughs do not come every second and are spaced between moments of awkwardness, pain, and tension, so all of the jokes (even the obligatory 9/11 joke) do not come across as forced or out of place.
The believable tone of the film works well since, like most rom coms, it starts to get a little cliché partway through. As most rom coms do, the starring couple have a fight that probably could’ve been avoided (and doesn’t always seem totally understandable, since the main conflict is about how Gardner should’ve seen Nanjiani’s two day rule as a red flag, even though she is the one who suggested it first), and even though the religious and cultural aspect of Nanjiani’s parents is a different twist, the disapproving family is not a new element on Gardner’s part. It was actually surprising how much of the film did not focus on the cultural aspect of Nanjiani’s life, though you would think that would be a greater focus. While this does lead to some powerful moments – like Nanjiani admitting that he does not pray, and that he does not know what he really believes – it seems like a family with that much focus on their heritage would make it a greater part of his story, even if he is not completely sold on it. If anything, him not being completely sold on it makes it more interesting, and something I wish we learned more about. We see how he is not always in touch with his heritage, but still bases an entire one-man show around it, showing that it is still important in his life. Yes, this story is about the illness that brought two people together despite their differences, but their differences are a big part of the story, and it’s surprising we don’t spend that much time on it. If you don’t know the culture well, Nanjiani’s need to keep his relationship a secret, as well as his need to satisfy his parents while still being his own man, might be lost on you.
It may not be entirely necessary to see this story projected on a big screen, but it is the kind of story that warms your heart just a little, and maybe makes you believe in romance and family. The characters are fun, the humor is fresh and real, and when you realize at the end it was all (mostly) real, you feel better about everything you just saw. Maybe it can get a little cloying, and maybe you will roll your eyes a bit to realize that sometimes people do act like they are in a rom com, but sometimes we all just need a little sweet in our lives. This movie is definitely that level of sweet.
3.5 / 5
I may have to start watching this guy’s comedy for real, he’s got a very dry sense of humor that I like. He might be my new John Mulaney.