Review – The Big Sick (2017)

by Kevin Muller

There is a saying that goes, “write what you know.” This advice is given to writers who try too hard to change the world with a unique idea. While a unique idea is great, sometimes it fails hard when it is overly complicated or not expanded upon to really give it a proper representation. The Big Sick takes this advice and creates something incredibly heartfelt and funny. Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen and this one is definitely one that sticks out among the pack.

In the film, Kumail, played by real life comedian Kumail Nanijiani, is a struggling Chicago based comedian. Outside of his struggles to find success, he also battles with his family, especially his mother, to both find a respectable career and a wife. Some of the film’s funniest comedy comes from his mother’s obsession with the latter. An abundant amount of women seem to “stop by” whenever he comes home for family dinner. It is in his mother’s hope that she will be able to create the perfect arranged marriage for her unwed son. The women are beautiful and wife material but they are missing that spark that he is looking for in mate. Soon after, he meets Emily Gardner, a cute and aspiring psychiatrist who is warm, witty, loving, supportive, but not Muslim. Though he is falling head over heels for her, he knows that it is a love that can never be, since he comes from a strict Muslim family. He loses Emily due to this problem and the two go their separate ways. Tragedy then befalls Emily as she is put into a medically induced coma due to a mysterious illness that is slowly eating away at her body. It is this unfortunate event that brings Kumail back to her, and also connects him to her parents that he never met during their courtship. A combination of hilarity and drama ensue as the three hang out waiting for Emily to wake up from the coma.

Most of this really happened to writers Kumail Nanijiani and his wife Emily Gordon when they dated. In reality, they did not break up before the coma happened.  This event did wake him up to how special she and their relationship were, which resulted in him marrying her quickly after she woke up. The film does stay true to some of their story, but some of the events have been spiced up for the sake of storytelling. Much of Kumail’s problems with his family have been elevated for both comedy and drama too. There are points where you will laugh at the absurdity of the idea of arranged marriage, but the two writers are quick not to throw harsh judgment at this way of life. His parents played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff are well fleshed out supporting characters who, at first, seem like nagging parents, but truly want the best for their son. They provide valid arguments for the importance of tradition.  

This story though is about the two characters of Kumail and Emily, so capturing their relationship was important for the film to work. While Kumail is playing a version of himself, Emily is played by actress Zoe Kazan. Kazan, granddaughter of the famous director Elia Kazan, is both an accomplished actress and screenwriter. Here, she is given limited time to both make an impact in Kumail’s life and to connect to the audience. Their chemistry is off the charts and they both play off each other well that make the script come alive. Kazan gives more than enough to make their  love seem real and genuine.

While Emily is in the coma, Kumail shares the screen with her parents Beth and Terry. Ray Ramano and Holly Hunter play the parents who had their own problems before their child became ill. Romano gives a worthy performance as a man who has made many mistakes that messed up his perfect family life and made him into a beta male. Hunter is the spitfire of the two characters that definitely gives Beth strong willed personality, that feels real of a mother frantically trying to save her child through any means possible. The threat of death both looms and affects many of the decisions that the parents make. It feels extremely real for anyone who has had a loved one on the brink of death. They aren’t just the parents of the female lead, but people of their own strengths and flaws. These two characters go through as much change as our main character does.

All of this may seem very dramatic, and there are points where it does get very deep, but it shouldn’t take away how well it balances the comedy too. Kumail’s self-defense mechanism is his comic wit that does produce many of the film’s humor. Director Michael Showalter, who only has directed a handful of features, but has spent much more time as writer, knows the power of the script and his actors. He specifically shows how parents, no matter religion or race, are all the same in the way they try to control so much in their children’s lives. It also feels very authentic in everything it presents. The film really shows the unglamorous and ordinary side of the life of an up-and-coming comedian through the dark and dank backstage areas, to the even smaller apartments that these people live in. The hospital scenes are also treated without the threat of becoming too melodramatic. The glue of the movie, which is the bond that develops between Kumail and her parents, is genuine. It earns every emotion truthfully. Too many of these types of films try to manipulate all the emotions that this movie just easily accomplishes.

It does get a bit bloated towards the end, but it is such a minor flaw in an absolutely fantastic film. The script is the real star here, as it juggles so many emotions and laughs, and would be a crime if it wasn’t nominated next February. The Big Sick manages to be both hilarious and wise, while accomplishing a very believable and touching story about second chances and love.

I am giving The Big Sick a 5 out of 5 hairpieces!

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