Propelled by its near perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, I went cold turkey into The Big Sick, without so much as seeing a trailer. Although it took a worrisome amount of time, I did eventually warm up to the film and ultimately I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The Big Sick is a movie that’s unflatteringly honest at times, and it’s a bit light in both of the romance and comedy departments, but it’s a well-rounded true story that makes up for its any of its shortcomings with a big heart.
The Big Sick tells the unique, real-life love story of how Kumail Nanjiani, played by himself in the film, met the love of his life, Emily. The film begins with Kumail working as a struggling stand-up comic. After a performance one night, he meets Emily at a bar and takes her back to his place. The two of them gradually begin dating, but Kumail keeps it a secret from his strict Pakistani parents, who expect him to abide by his culture’s custom of arranged marriages. When Emily’s health unexpectedly takes a dangerous and mysterious turn, Kumail must confront his family, as well as meet Emily’s family, to confess his true feelings of love.
Allow me to begin by addressing the fact that I spent a good half of The Big Sick feeling entirely ambivalent about it. While it seemed well made, I didn’t feel particularly entertained nor engaged by it. Slowly but surely, however, the movie began to win me over, thanks primarily to the help of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who co-star as Emily’s parents. By the end, I appreciated and enjoyed the film, and I feel as though I would probably like it even more with a second viewing.
The movie rubbed me the wrong way early on with its not-so-romantic romance that culminated from a one-night-stand. I found the relationship of Kumail and Emily to be somewhat dull, and I was perplexed by how unfavorably it depicts both characters. Though considering the screenplay was actually written by both of them, I suppose there’s something noble and courageous to be said about their honesty. This is not a typical romanticized love story. It has two decent but flawed characters, who I felt indifferent towards at the outset but learned to care about over the course of the film.
Kumail is quite enjoyable as the lead star and I suspect this will be a breakout role for him. He has a good sense of humor and really showcases it in a couple of hysterical scenes. My favorite being a late night visit to a restaurant drive-thru, which is one of the flat-out funniest moments I’ve seen in theaters all year. I also really loved both Romano and Hunter. They’re both complex and comical characters struggling with their own strained marriage, while hesitantly getting to know Kumail and coming to terms with their daughter’s grave illness. Certainly not the best circumstances to be meeting your girlfriend’s parents, and even worse considering they knew that Kumail and Emily had broken up shortly beforehand.
Hunter’s character is volatile and highly defensive of her daughter, yet she’s still wholly identifiable as a loving and concerned parent. I think she gives the strongest performance in the film. Ray Romano is also a pleasant addition, and his character ironically tries to be the voice of reason and balance, even as his own life is crumbling beneath him. I also liked Kumail’s parents, played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff. Kumail’s mother is amusing in her never-ending pursuit of potential female suitors to marry her son. However, having grown up with western values, Kumail’s own beliefs serve as a stark contrast to those of his strict and traditional family.
The way in which The Big Sick depicts the differences in American and Pakistani culture is what I think really helps to set it apart. It tackles these contrasts with both comedy and sincerity, while also drawing attention to the subtle and the not-so-subtle racism that’s often prevalent in the misunderstanding of other cultures. It’s an honest and respectful film that should be approached as open-mindedly as possible. Those of you willing to give this one a chance may find that it to be well worth your while.
5 Minute Movie Guy