Since its premiere at Sundance, The Big Sick has been a gigantic ball of positive buzz. Based loosely on the story of how star Kumail Nanjiani and his real life wife Emily V. Gordon started their relationship, The Big Sick relies on the comedic talents of Kumail to produce one of the funniest romantic comedies to date, and it does all of this without sacrificing the romantic side of the genre. With all that buzz, it is kind of difficult to lock down exactly what The Big Sick sets out to be. Is it a drama about modern healthcare, a political examination of race and relationships, an attempt to redefine what is it that the American dream has become? Surprisingly, and luckily for audiences; all of the above.
People will probably be most familiar with Kumail from his role as Dinesh on Silicon Valley and while he’s been successful in his career as a scene stealer, his turn as a leading man is well timed and flawless, considering he is playing himself. The simple fact that the majority of this story actually happened, and chronicles one of the most difficult period of the two main characters’ lives is what makes this so compelling. Who knew following the budding romance of a comedian and a psychology student could be so beautiful. Seeing an actor in Kumail that’s never been in a serious role lose his mind and fall into grief, knowing that is comes from reliving the darkest moment of his own existence, sandwiched in between jokes about giraffe testicles and terrorism is the best kind of whiplash.
Kumail is brilliant throughout, and his co-star Zoe Kazan does an amazing job of handling the whole sick portion of The Big Sick, all the while steering the tone of the movie with presence alone. The cast is really stellar, with amazing turns by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents who, along with Kumail, establish the group that propels the narrative forward. Add to that Kumails troupe of comedian friends and the cinematic family that Kumail has assembled and you’ve got hilarious situations and one-liners set up against the backdrop of some pretty serious subject matter.
This movie is just funny. With Kumail and Ray Romano in leading comedic roles you’ve also got Bo Burnham, Adeel Akhtar, Aidy Bryant and a surprise cameo by David Allan Grier. The actual glimpses of stand up comedy you see from Kumail and his friends are great, but the interplay between everyone in this movie is comedic gold. I really enjoyed the riffing that goes on, particularly between Kumail and Romano and there’s a particular scene between them in the hospital lunchroom this is at the pinnacle of cringe humor.
The main plot of this film is fairly simple: Emily gets really sick, and the movie chronicles how Kumail and Emily’s parents all deal with it. The plot lines that interweave themselves into this overall narrative however, set out to really examine the lives of the characters, Kumail in particular. Kumail comes from a very conservative Pakistani Muslim family and while there’s a tenuous understanding about his hangups with the majority of their faith driven lives, he does permit his mother to parade a line of Pakistani women through their home in hopes of arranging a marriage. What starts out as typical montage comedy fodder really gets at the heart of one of the major conflicts Kumail deals with. He’s trying to balance what he perceives as his best life with trying to not crack under the pressure of tradition that he only follows to not lose his family.
If this was all that was going on in the movie, that would be about as heavy as a romantic comedy can get but then you add into the mix that the first time Kumail meets Emily’s parents, she’s in a medically induced coma. But these moments, especially early on in their formative relationship, are some of the most heartwarming and hilarious bits in the movie. I know that Ray Romano is the type of actor that is literally always just “Ray Romano as:” but his manner and affect along with his dry sense of humor plays well against the manic nature of Holly Hunter and the sarcastic wit of Kumail. They all mesh and make the truly frightening circumstances under which they meet easier to handle.
I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy and I hope that people don’t think they’re too cool to go see this film. It’s heartfelt and brilliant but it’s also one of the better comedies in recent years. The fact that so many killer lines are delivered in hospital rooms and at dinner tables where excommunication is being discussed goes to show how real this whole story is. You feel the weight of the emotions, especially in the scenes where Kumail and Emily aren’t warm and fuzzy. Knowing that these moments actually happened, that the frustration and tension that peeks its head out from underneath this comedy tapestry really emphasizes how special this story is to everyone involved in making it.