The Big Sick Review
A refreshingly different kind of romantic comedy
Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani stars in this stranger-than-fiction love story complete with 9/11 jokes and al fresco pooing.Who would have thought in this age of Trumpism and absolute awfulness that we’d get a sweet, funny romantic comedy with a Muslim man as the lead? Honestly, that premise alone is heart-warming. The plot of the film is even more so – Kumail (played by and based on Nanjiani) is an aspiring stand-up comic who moonlights as an Uber driver and spends his time trying to make people laugh and dodging arranged marriages set up by his traditional Muslim parents. At one of his shows, he’s heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan), and the two begin a relationship.
It’s pretty hard to talk about this film without giving away spoilers, so let’s get the biggest one out of the way. The Big Sick is written by Nanjiani and the real-life Emily Gordon, who’s now his wife. It’s based on the actual story of how they met, and it’s that realism and normality that makes it work. The title is also a bit of a spoiler; Emily gets sick, and while she’s in a medically-induced coma Kumail keeps a bedside vigil and in doing so, meets Emily’s parents Beth and Terry – played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.
The film is romantic, genuinely funny and very smart. What shines through is that these characters are normal people, and their idiosyncrasies and flaws and ordinariness isn’t airbrushed out. Issues of race, religion and parenting are dealt with in searing and almost painfully realistic ways. Beth and Terry must deal with the fact that their daughter is in a coma and also come to terms with Kumail – a Muslim.
Unless you’ve been living under some sort of supremacist rock you know there are some issues with Islamophobia in the media right now – The Big Sick takes those issues and makes them the butt of the joke. There are a lot of funny lines in the film, but one of the best scenes is a conversation between Terry and Kumail about 9/11. It doesn’t sound like great comedy material, but it’s dealt with irreverently and issues around Islamophobia are treated as ridiculous right off the bat. It’s a refreshing stance for Hollywood to take; it’s nice to have a Muslim man who’s not actually a terrorist - and who in fact makes jokes about them - as our lead.
Kumail’s parents Azmat and Sharmeen (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff) are conservative in their religion and desperately try to set up an arranged marriage with a Muslim woman for their son. Their behaviour and mannerisms are used as a comedic bit within themselves – throughout the film romantic comedy tropes and ‘films with brown people’ tropes are satirised, and although it’s a bona fide romantic comedy, you always know that The Big Sick is actually a bit more than that. The Big Sick has got racial elements, political jokes and social commentary that goes a bit beyond the remit of your standard Hollywood romantic comedy.
Nanjiani and Kazan have great chemistry, but arguably nothing can match the sparkling, combative chemistry that Nanjiani and Romano’s characters share. The old cinematic convention of ‘meeting the in-laws’ can be taken at face value, but it can also be seen as deeper than that; this is a generational meeting, a dialogue between races and fundamentally a coming together of different worlds.
There are racial elements, political jokes and social commentary that go beyond the remit of your standard Hollywood romantic comedy
And it’s not presented as fictional, or fantastical, or ‘Hollywood’ at all. It’s real life – these are realistic characters who do realistic things (anyone with Asian parents will recognise some truths in there, and anyone who’s ever had a few awkward first dates will see themselves in Kumail and Emily’s early exchanges). Director Michael Showalter and Nanjiani and Gordon’s script do a really great job of making light out of some touch-and-go material – like I said, you’ll find 9/11 jokes here, and jokes about sex and death and racism (all the really good stuff).
Another important aspect of the film is that its romantic couple is, whisper it quietly, interracial. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed how rare it is to find that in mainstream films (another spoiler alert: it’s very rare). The good news is that The Big Sick isn’t alone these days – contemporary releases like Spiderman: Homecoming, The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Unforgettable feature interracial couples as their leads. Diversity is as important on screen as it is off it, and it’s so encouraging to see blockbusters and mainstream films with people of colour in their casts. It’s a testament to The Big Sick, a romantic comedy with Ray Romano and a bunch of scenes about a coma, that it can spark conversations about race and society.
The Big Sick is a romantic comedy that does more. It’s smart, funny, charming and above all, refreshing. It’s refreshing to have a lead character of colour; it’s refreshing to have a flawed female character who’s not presented as a manic-pixie-dream-girl or overly-sexualised; it’s refreshing to show issues of race and religion on-screen as real people experience them; hell, it’s refreshing to see someone struggling to make it, to see someone in a film with a messy apartment and stunningly accurate awkwardness.
The Big Sick doesn’t preach at you, and it finds a great way of tucking real-world issues into the structures of a romantic comedy. Come for the romance, laugh at the comedy, and appreciate the realism of the characters on display. Oh, and stay for the photo montage at the end.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.