Just when you thought you couldn’t handle another romantic comedy, along comes The Big Sick to prove you wrong and redeem your faith in this worn-out genre. The film is based on a real-life story of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon (who, coincidentally, wrote the script together).
Pakistan-born comedian and uber driver Kumail (played by himself) and grad student Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) navigate the modern-day challenges of dating in ways that are both heartwarming and hilarious. They form a romantic attachment after she “woo-hoo”s him (or was it a heckle?) at one of his stand-up shows…and before you know it, a one-night stand on an inflatable mattress transforms into an unlikely but seemingly perfect romance.
Except for one thing: Kumail’s family is dedicated to finding him a nice Muslim bride for an arranged marriage, and Kumail isn’t ready to risk the rejection of his family for a possible future with Emily. The two love birds split but then Emily falls suddenly, mysteriously, and gravely ill and Kumail is the only one available to sign paperwork at the hospital and contact Emily’s parents, Terry and Beth (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, respectively). Kumail is then left to navigate the challenges of forming a relationship with Terry and Beth after breaking their daughter’s heart and keeping his relationship with Emily a secret from his family, while he’s basically living at the hospital for a month.
He isn’t the only star in the film, though. I fell hard for both Kumail and Emily’s parents. Kumail’s parents, Azmat and Sharmeen (played expertly by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), are equal parts chastising and doting, always wanting what is best for their son — especially if it meets their traditional ideals. Scenes shot at the dining table where potential mates conveniently stopped by right on time were a great vehicle to anchor the story and poignantly paint the dilemma Kumail faced. Terry and Beth are united in their love and support for their daughter, but not much else. Their quirky relationship, and budding friendship with Kumail, are full of great comedic material.
Dark topics like terrorism and 9/11 were handled deftly without forcing, and the film never stooped to cheesy gags. There was one foray into potty humour territory, but it was in a really tender and endearing way, if you can believe it. I watched the film in a small, local art-house and I was worried that all my guffawing would disturb the other patrons. I literally laughed out loud at regular intervals; the comedic timing is award-worthy, with a masterfully crafted ratio of jokes to screen time. The film is not only genuinely touching, it’s also the type of movie that makes me randomly remember scenes after the fact and start laughing all over again.
Buried within the charming and entertaining love story is some really important fodder for reflection. What is the right balance between new opportunities and old traditions within evolving families? How does a relationship stand the test of time? How do you forgive and forget? When is the promise of possibilities worth the risk of rejection?
The Big Sick leaves the viewer to wrestle with these questions on their own, but the entire cast models how to successfully navigate the landscape for one’s self: with honesty, vulnerability, love, and a little bit of laughter.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.