In the midst of trying to become a stand-up comic, Pakistan-born Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) meets grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan). They fall in love, and cultures clash. When she contracts a life-threatening illness, Kumail has to face her eccentric parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). Also, he must go to war with his old school, traditional, Pakistani family’s expectations, and have conversations with his innermost feelings as well. But mostly, it’s his family’s (his mom’s) constant obsession with fixing him up with a nice Pakistani girl who “happened to be in the neighbourhood” that really irritates him, as he doesn’t know who he is yet, or who wants to be.
After the greatness of Netflix hit comedy series Master of None, The Big Sick looked to be a film version of the hit the show. The main difference being that our main character and his family are from Pakistan, not India, like Dev Shah (Aziz Ansari). Both The Big Sick and The Master of None show contrasting differences between western and the eastern culture, the opposing lifestyles of America and old traditions of Asia. The Big Sick depicts the cultural parallels of Pakistan and White America via the Kumail’s relationship with Emily, the forbidden love in which Kumail should not be associated with. Well, according to Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), “an unwavering pillar of morality”.
Arranged marriages and domestic squabbles aside, The Big Sick weaves together a wonderful story with brilliant performances from all the cast. There’s not a single weak link. Whether we’re watching Kumail and Emily (Kazan) having heart to heart moments on the steps outside of her apartment or the amusing antics of Pakistani parents in fixing their sons up with friends of friends, the cast is great. Holly Hunter (Batman V Superman) and Ray Romano (Ice Age) shine as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry. And in my opinion, Holly Hunter manages to steal the film from every other character, including our star-crossed lovers, funny man Kumail and grad student Emily Gardener.
There are few American comedies I can sit through until the very end without complaining about forced acting or cringe-worthy writing. The Big Sick has neither, and it’s one of my favourite romantic comedy-dramas since Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977). The Big Sick takes the phrase “well that escalated quickly” to new heights. One minute we’re watching a stand-up comedy show, and in the next, we’re watching Emily fight for her life. Honestly, this film is more drama than comedy. Going from your basic domestics to half of the relationship being comatose, my emotions went from a upbeat Disney musical (like Moana or Mulan) to revisiting my state after Still Alice.
The dramatic tonal shifts are the equivalent of being sparkly eyed in one second to wanting to be angry at the creatives for toying with emotions like that in the next. And amidst the sadness, we are given a lesson on the sociopolitical conventions of the West, including comedic scenarios such as when Terry indirectly asks Kumail what he thinks about 9/11, like every person who remotely looks like an Arab knows the ins and outs of 9/11? Casual racism much? This scenario is turned into something more serious towards the end of the film when Kumail is racially discriminated against at his own gig. Yes, this is more drama than comedy and that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.
When Emily is put into a coma, it’s portrayed as a “shit happens” moment. Life is short and we can never be sure on how much time we have left. Wham! It’s gone. After Collateral Beauty and A Monster Calls earlier on this year / the end of last, The Big Sick reiterates what those movies say: life is a gift. Cherish it, use it well; and there’s no time for petty arguments. We can’t anticipate sudden events like the ones depicted in the film so we must treasure every moment. And in these moments, we will hate, love, cry, laugh and be thrown into a state of self-reflection. With these bouts of philosophy (existential leanings) mixed with other themes, this is a riveting watch indeed.
From the discussions of race and religion to its brutally honest take on life, The Big Sick isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s a romantic comedy-drama that makes one think. The performances are great and it has numerous moments that will make you bust a gut. And I think we’ll still be talking about this film in twenty years. It’s a future cult classic for sure and another example of indie films showing the mettle in an industry that is dominated by $150m-budget blockbusters.