Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comedian from Pakistan who meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) during one of his shows. As their relationship starts to grow, so does his worry about his traditional Muslim parents’ views of him dating a non-Pakistani girl. Things take a turn for the worse when Emily comes down with a serious illness that leaves her in a coma. Through this ordeal, Nanjiani forms an unlikely bond with her parents which ultimately changes his life.
The Big Sick has gotten rave reviews and it’s no wonder. Based on the ups and downs of the real-life courtship between Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, this film is a charming and moving blend of laughs and heartache. Unlike most romantic comedies, there is an added component: the courage to challenge the notion of filial piety.
Playing himself, it feels as if Nanjiani is merely re-enacting the different events, but his honest performance nevertheless makes him engaging and relatable. You find yourself rooting for him and wanting him to have his happily ever after. While he understands the traditions of his culture, he questions the idea of keeping up with them while in a different country.
I liked how he condenses what would have been a long speech about family expectations into a couple of sentences to relay his desire to be different. Though it doesn’t work for his parents, it does give a different perspective of living the American dream.
Nanjiani also enjoys a great chemistry with Kazan, whose Emily isn’t quite the girl-next-door or a Zooey Deschanel-type oddball. Perhaps it’s to do with playing an actual person, but her reactions and delivery of emotionally-driven lines are a great change from the usual over-dramatised female leads. Doing a number two at 3am? No problem!
And then we have Nanjiani’s in-laws Terry (Ray Romano as the relatable dad) and Beth (Oscar-winner Holly Hunter), awkwardly coming to grips with their prospective Muslim son-in-law. In one of the flim’s best moments, Terry tries to strike up a friendly conversation with Nanjani – about 9/11. It might have come off as offensive, had it not been for the hilarity of Nanjani’s reaction and Romano’s brilliant ‘dadsplaining’ of the question he posted.
Perhaps The Big Sick‘s biggest strength is how it handles the interracial romance at the heart of the story. In something of a role reversal, it is not Emily’s parents who object to their relationship, but Nanjiani’s. This is is evident in their many family conversations, which includes the ‘ghosting’ of a relative who married a white girl, and the shaming of their interracial baby.
Though this aspect of the story is told from Nanjiani’s point of view, it gives an insight into just how much of a stigma interracial romance is to a family that’s deeply rooted in their cultural beliefs.
13 Going on 30 will always be my favorite rom-com, but The Big Sick is a close second. The honest storytelling in movie is what sets it apart from other rom-coms. Aside from being a real event, it deals with the reality of being in love in our society today; where interracial couples are common but the colour of our skin still matters.
While I do love the many fabrications of unlikely cute accidental occurrences where a girl meets a boy and falls madly in love, I appreciate the reality check this film brought.
The Big Sick is playing in Singapore now. Tell us if you agree with our review!