The Big Sick
The Big Sick is a semi-autobiographical romantic comedy written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon about their bizarre courtship.
After finding fame in hit TV comedy Silicon Valley, it was perhaps inevitable that stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani would take the well-trodden path into a quirky Hollywood comedy.
The Big Sick, produced by Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, tells the story of Kumail, a semi-fictionalised version of Nanjiani, and details his fraught and strange relationship with Emily (Zoe Kazan), the white American girlfriend he can’t bring himself to tell his parents about.
Kumail is a Pakistan-born Uber driver trying to make his way in stand-up comedy in Chicago when he meets and falls for Emily, a psychology student who takes a shine to him at an otherwise mediocre gig.
Their relationship progresses but is hindered by Kumail’s determination to keep things casual. He invents a ‘two-day rule’ to stop them spending too many consecutive nights together and shies away from introducing her to his family.
The reason for this is that Kumail knows his parents expect him to enter an arranged marriage to a Pakistani woman - putting forward a string of suitable candidates as possible wives.
Although Kumail rejects them, placing their photographs aside in a small box as keepsakes, his pride in his cultural background and feelings of duty towards his family leave him torn between Emily and the more traditional future he believes will bring him happiness.
After five months of dating, Emily discovers his secret and they have an explosive row which results in a seemingly permanent break-up.
Soon after however, she is struck down with a mystery illness, and with her parents living out of state, her friend calls Kumail as next of kin - forcing him to sign forms allowing doctors to place her in a medically induced coma when her illness worsens.
What elevates The Big Sick above other ‘quirky’ romantic comedies is the subject matter and attentiveness of the writing, as it was penned by Nanjiani and his wife, therapist turned TV writer, Emily Gordon.
Gordon does not spare her husband in their script, and the fact Kumail can also be selfish and self-absorbed stops its cross-cultural observations becoming trite.
The film examines the extremely topical problem of immigrants, and in particular Muslim Americans’ difficulties with racism and clashing identities without positioning him as either a saint or victim.
When Emily’s parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) arrive, Kumail is placed in the awkward situation of doting on her alongside her parents who hate him as he has broken their possibly-dying daughter’s heart.
The jokes are also close to the bone, but help to understand the characters, including a scene in which Kumail defuses an uncomfortable chat with Terry about 9/11 with a flippant quip because he’s not quite sure what else to say, making it a stand out moment.
The relationship between Kumail and Beth and Terry is also equal parts touching and hilarious, as Emily’s parents try to work through their relationship and anger issues, all the while unsure whether to throttle or embrace their daughter’s ex-boyfriend and also fraught with worry that Emily won’t make it.
The love-hate relationships of this very personal film ring very true, as they should, given its personal nature.
However, they are also timely and universal - as its characters struggle to work out their own personal and cultural identities and what that means to their own lives.
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