The Big Sick is a film that is easy to love but hard to categorize. It has the feel of a rom-com, except that the female lead spends a large part of the film in a coma. Dramatic moments stemming from her illness are leavened by standup routines and insightful humor. The Pakistani American male lead is caught between the demands of his family and his need to make his own life decisions. Unlikely as it may sound, these disparate elements become a memorable storyline.
Writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, who are married in real life, based the screenplay on parts of their personal history. Nanjiani plays a younger version of himself in the film, while Zoe Kazan plays Gordon.
Kumail does a standup act in Chicago, and Emily attends one of his shows. They meet cute when she yells “woo-hoo” during his set (which Kumail considers heckling). The two bond over drinks after his set and end up spending the night together. From there, they see each other regularly, while insisting they are not dating.
Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents try to convince him to quit standup, take the LSAT, and marry a Pakistani American woman. Kumail’s mother is more than willing to provide help with the last item. Every time he sits down to a dinner with his family, another hopeful young woman “drops in” to give Kumail her photo. Too timid to defy his parents, Kumail simply takes the photos home and throws them into a cigar box.
It is only a matter of time before Emily discovers the cache of women’s pictures. She ends the relationship on the grounds that they have no future. Soon after, Emily becomes critically ill and must be placed in a medically induced coma. This jolts Kumail, and he vows to stay by her side. He does not count on the arrival of Emily’s parents (Ray Romano, Holly Hunter), who know all about him and the failed relationship. Understandably, they do not want him there. It is up to Kumail to sort out his feelings and fight for what he really wants.
The film really rests on Nanjiani’s shoulders, and he does a wonderful job of conveying the emotions and growth sparked by the ordeal. Zoe Kazan is absent for a substantial part of the film due to her character’s illness, but she makes the most of her screen time. The chemistry between the two leads is easy and believable.
Holly Hunter and Ray Romano turn in moving but also richly comedic performances as Emily’s overwrought parents. Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are equally impressive as Kumail’s parents.
Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) has his work cut out for him with so many narrative threads. He is to be commended for making everything look spontaneous.
Theme: Changing Traditions
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