Just as 2009’s 500 Days of Summer shows us what can come out of an unsuccessful relationship, and 1989’s Say Anything leaves the story unfinished, 2017’s The Big Sick deals with how to fight through adversity in a relationship to make it work. While taking three different angles of relationships, what these films have in common, however, is they are realistic romantic comedies that people will be talking about (or have talked about) for a long time.
Comedian Kumail Nanjiani writes and stars in The Big Sick, where he plays himself in a semi-autobiographical story of how he and his wife, Emily, first meet.
It details Nanjiani’s courtship with Emily. Except he’s from Pakistan and Emily is a white American girl. In Kumail’s culture, people have arranged marriages, and his parents have been tying to set him up for a long time, but he doesn’t tell Emily. Kumail feels distant from his culture, and is very attuned to American life. Emily finds out what Kumail’s been hiding and that he hasn’t even told his parents about her. She immediately breaks up with him.
This part may be the only negative of this film. It feels slightly forced. Why would Kumail give up the girl he loves for ideals he doesn’t believe in? He says it’s so he doesn’t get cast out of the family, but we’re never truly convinced that he enjoys being a part of his family in the first place. However, it’s padded with so much good stuff on either side that it’s forgivable.
A little while later, it’s discovered that Emily has some sort of mysterious infection in her lungs and is put in a medically induced coma. Kumail still loves her and stays by her side, and meets her parents for the first time in the hospital. With the tension of their breakup, they’re unsure what to think of Kumail.
The result is one of the most real romantic comedies you will ever see. Not in the events themselves, necessarily, but in the lack of emphasis on them. There isn’t some groundbreaking event that leads to Emily’s mom getting past her reservations about Kumail, but it’s still one of the relationships that helps form this film.
The Big Sick tends to avoid cliches and stereotypes. Probably the only thing it stereotypes is comedians, but that’s because it’s written by one.
Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents. Both are incredible. Hunter is commendable for her character’s seamless evolution, and Romano’s compassion and always-comforting humor ground the film.
The Big Sick’s major strength is that it’s much smarter than it appears to be. At one point, Emily’s parents want to move her to a “better” hospital while she’s in a coma, which goes against the advice of the hospital and Kumail, who both stress the dangers of doing so. Kumail aggressively tries to stop them, but Emily’s mother says that they are her parents and know what’s best for her. While Kumail’s parents are claiming that he’s being selfish for wanting to be with a white woman for their own reasons, he sees Emily’s parents doing the same thing, despite what’s actually best for Emily.
In the film, and in real life, Kumail is a stand-up comedian. The Big Sick takes us into the mind of a comedian and how he tries to find humor in everything–even the most depressing things. It’s a way of coping that some–including this film’s audience–may be put off by. It may seem like it never truly tries to grasp onto its melancholy.
Comedy is absolutely everywhere in this movie. And at times it’s relentless. It may feel like it’s parodying the events that take place, but it’s actually serving to show us something. The comedy is there to provide laughs and to establish a certain atmosphere, but it’s also used as a theming device. The movie isn’t just about this relationship between two people, but it’s about comedy itself and how ubiquitous it is in Kumail’s life. It’s made him who he is, and even allowed him to meet his wife.
While Emily is in her coma, Kumail spends almost all of his time with her parents, getting to know them. He witnesses their love for each other, while also getting to learn about their major issues. He sees that every couple has their problems and that if you truly love someone, you work them out and fight for your relationship.
The Big Sick is one of the best romantic comedies you will ever see in that it doesn’t feel like one, while at the same time dissecting for us the things that make relationships work. Things that you can’t always put into words.