It feels like it’s been forever since I went to or reviewed a romantic comedy. Or a romance. Or a comedy. It’s a wonder that I’ve not gone off the deep edge. For the sake of my sanity, thank goodness for The Big Sick.
The film is directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) and stars Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who also wrote the film, based on his own true story). It follows a stand up comedian named Kumail in Chicago (Nanjiani) who falls for Emily, a young girl he meets at his gig (Gordon). However, he is a Pakistani immigrant whose family firmly believe in arranged marriage, to a traditional Muslim. Further complicating things is the fact that Emily get’s seriously, and inexplicably sick.
It’s a topic that has the benefit of being relatively untouched in comedic circles, in terms of popular culture. At least to the masses. The closest is the fantastic Master of None, which recently released its second season to Netflix, and did touch on some of the same comedic situations. It is a ripe fruit comedy wise, and some of the films funniest moments are at the dinner table, Kumail sharing a meal with his family as they continue to attempt to arrange his marriage with some new Pakistani woman. The movie manages to make these situations funny when it wants to, but pointed and meaningful when it wants to also. An important trait in all good comedies.
The chemistry is strong between Nanjiani and Gordon, although in actual fact their screen time together doesn’t span the entire film. By account of the fact that she’s in the hospital, incredibly sick for much of it. This creates another one of the film’s many hearts, which is the fantastic relationship and chemistry between Kumail and Emily’s parents. They meet under the worst of circumstances of course. The parents (played wonderfully by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) are icy towards him at first. The immediate reaction is to assume this is due to his race. However, it’s not what it seems, and the film delivers just one of many subtle but effective surprises.
The film sort of has a number of elements. Playgrounds within which it works. One is the romance between the leads. Another is Kumail and his parents. Then Kumail and her parents. Lastly, there’s the comedy club where we spend time with Kumail’s friends and fellow stand ups (Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant provide superb support). These defined spaces create this excellent familiarity early in the film and we start to get a feel for each and enjoy each for it’s own unique dynamic. By film’s end they have all come together. It really is textbook writing.
While mostly lighthearted, the film has it’s drama. It’s new territory too. A man forced to bond with the parents of the woman he did wrong, while she struggles to survive. It’s such a unique dynamic and it unfolds flawlessly. There’s plenty of serious themes to dig into, from family struggles, to love, to loyalty. The balance of laughs and drama is flawless and the emotional moments do manage to hit the mark, never coming off to cringe worthy or forced. There’s also no smooth, Hollywood moments. Every sad moment has a silver lining and no happy moment is perfect. That’s truly refreshing to see and shows the depth of the film.
After watching The Big Sick, I did some research. I realized that really good indie romantic comedies have been a little sparse lately. I can say with total confidence that the drought is over, and The Big Sick ranks as one of the years best films of any genre. Go see it, now.