By Jack Dignan
It’s easy to get lost in the sappiness when dealing with as tricky a subject as that in The Big Sick. You can stem too far to the left and make the film’s sole intention getting the audience to cry, or you can stem to the right and focus too much on the comedy that it undermines the emotional core. The genre has been a success before. Take the wonderful 50/50 for example. However, that doesn’t make the task any less difficult, and it certainly doesn’t make The Big Sick a generic rom com. Trust me, you’re in for a real treat with this movie.
Kumail Nanjiani isn’t somebody you would’ve heard of a few years ago. Or maybe you had. I don’t know your life story. But to the general public, he was, for the most part, nothing more than a struggling comedian (and I don’t mean that in a patronizing, insulting manner; he’s far more successful than I’ll ever be). Then, more recently, his career took off. He’s a beloved standup and actor, most notable for his hilarious cameos in films of varying degrees of quality. Don’t worry, he’s usually the best part. However, The Big Sick is Kumail’s first major role, and it couldn’t be more fitting, as this isn’t just a fun happy-go-lucky romantic comedy, it’s the biopic of Kumail’s life. Kind of.
While born in Pakistan, in his later years Kumail and his family moved to America, where they settled down and started a new life. Despite the change of location, their family still held onto their country’s traditions, including that of arranged marriage. Or, where they’re from, it’s just called marriage. Kumail’s mum (Zenobia Shroff) has been desperately trying to find her son a partner for years, but he’s just not into it. It isn’t who he is. He prefers playing video games over praying, or stand up comedy to becoming a lawyer. Then he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), and his life is changed forever.
No, they don’t go riding away off into a rainbow Grease-style. Instead, he rebels against his family’s customs and, in secret, begins a relationship with the love of his life. It’s in these moments where the film successfully sets the ground. Their relationship blossoms in a slow-moving, but much enjoyable first act, where laughs are plenty and heart is key. Kumail and Kazan share a number of enjoyable scenes, full of chemistry and pitch perfect comedic timing, but the film soon unravels its much-needed change up. Emily is in a coma. Their relationship was left on bad terms. And from here, the real film begins.
It may take a while to get to this point, but the build up is entirely necessary. You get a sense of not just their relationship and inconveniently timed break up, but of who these characters are as people. You love them. You care for them. I found myself wanting their every dream to come true, while also laughing riotously as they have sex during multiple b-grade horror flicks. The film is a gem. A slow paced gem with a safe first act, but one with rewarding payoff. Once the film makes that click into something else, it elevates to a whole other level, even without an always-elegant performance from Kazan.
The second and third acts are beyond touching, but they retain that sense of joy and hilarity. Several moments had me bursting with laughter. One joke in particular had me trying to hold back from laughing right through into the following more serious scene. I did not succeed. And yes, I felt like an asshole. But it really goes to prove this film’s talents. It’s able to make you cry just as easily as it can laugh. There’s a perfect balance, mixed in with moving, real life tragedy and a cultural relevance with an important message.
Michael Showalter’s direction is simply serviceable, but he does have a clear connection with his cast members, and because of that, he always brings the best out of them. It may look and feel somewhat bland at times, but it’s these characters and the situations that brighten up the screen and the atmosphere into a film well worth a watch. The script, co-written by Kumail and the real life Emily (spoiler alert, I guess), is warm, tender and the real heart and soul of this film. Some of the plot points do feel a little jumpy, particularly the first mention of Kumail not wanting to see Emily’s parents, but it finds its footing and the final result is something very special.
Watching The Big Sick is an endless joy. It’s almost impossible not to love, especially thanks to Kumail’s game changing, career best performance, but really, the entire cast must be thanked (Holly Hunter needs a last minute shout out too). This film may not do everything right, but it does most of it. Besides, it’s very hard to not make Ray Romano funny, yet The Big Sick does just that. So… well done, movie. Well done.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: