Summary: The roller coaster of an aspiring stand up comic’s love life with ups and downs featuring cultural differences and an illness.
Hrm. That might be a misleading title. I liked The Big Sick without lots of enthusiasm, hence the period. I liked The Big Sick in the sense that I wasn’t crazy about it, but I liked most of it. As an atypical indie romantic comedy, I can see why it has won over many viewers and critics but I’m still not 100% sold. It’s sweet, endearing, funny, and genuine. It’s also very, very long.
In The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is an aspiring stand up comic who falls in love with a white woman Emily (Zoe Kazan) while his Pakistani parents attempt to pair him off in a more traditional manner (re: arranged marriages). Along the way, the differences in the two cultures clash in more than just the romance, bringing identity, father-mother-son relationships, and love into the fold.
Light spoiler ahead if you don’t already know about Nanjiani’s personal life- the movie is based on the road to his real-life marriage.
End of spoiler.
There are a lot of great things about The Big Sick, namely Nanjiani in his first leading role, with Nanjiani being the actor and Kumail being the character. Nanjiani has a great dryness and humor and brings a nice delicate balance to the jokes one immediately laughs at, stops to think, then laughs again. It might help that he’s playing himself but there’s a good authenticity to his performance. He has great chemistry with everyone on screen, including Emily’s parents played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Overall, the dialogue is very well-written with a good balance between the heartfelt and the humor. There are some moments of truth in the film where Kumail has a revelation either about himself or the person he is talking to- the lines aren’t just spoken but the moment is revealed and you can see ideas forming in Nanjiani’s head. My favorite parts of the film were those used in those revealing moments where Kumail discovers a truth about himself as an Americanized Pakistani immigrant. Lots of his internalized conflict comes with wanting to please his parents but also trying to understand his own aversions to the culture and its traditions.
The characters, painted with traits of real people, feel so authentic. (Special shout out to Hunter, who somehow doesn’t have an Oscar yet and has one of the best scenes in the movie.) They do an excellent job of creating tension and moments of true emotion. It’s all cemented with Kazan’s performance as Emily, who is incredibly charming, warm, and lovable. Kazan puts in serious work for the forty-five minutes we get to spend with Emily- when she undergoes her treatment, we feel the loss of a truly beautiful person. It’s appropriately terrifying and emotional.
While the movie might pose as a romantic comedy, the real relationship at the core is the one Kumail has with himself, as everything basically hinges on his self-realization. Emily isn’t just a love interest- she’s a catalyst to the start of his journey of self-acceptance. Kumail’s relationships are used to ebb and flow, and sometimes swell and burst throughout the movie. Each character is used to add a different element and perspective to our protagonist’s stance. In a wise move, most scenes wisely change the relationship dynamics to progress move the characters along. It’s only through this process with others that Nanjiani can acknowledge his own feelings for Emily and feel comfortable with saying them out loud. It was really refreshing to see a character not only evolve into something else but be at peace with who he was becoming.
While the majority of this is a lot of fun to watch, The Big Sick’s most noticeable enemy is time. I’m all for long movies but if I start to notice time, it’s a big loss of points as the film isn’t doing its escapism duties. I really wanted to like The Big Sick, but there was so much of me by the end that felt exhausted. It feels incredibly slow in some parts and this may have to do with the sudden shift from Kumail and Emily’s relationship into Kumail’s self-reflection. Or it may have to do with how Emily feels more or less like a ticket out of Kumail’s cultural indifference instead of a tool to reconcile the two different sets of values. It might be how Kumail is introduced to us as a character who already has an identity rather than one at the center of an identity crisis, which doesn’t hit until the middle of the movie. I’m not really sure why it felt so long- I would have to watch it again, but I already feel tired thinking of it.
That aside, The Big Sick is, for the most part, an enjoyable movie- just not one I’m crazy about… or looking forward to watching again… or plan on watching again. It’s for some people- for a lot of people- just not for me, like how some people don’t like cilantro or Brie cheese (for the record, I love both those things). If you like quirky romance movies, this may be the one for you!