Love, comedy, and cultural differences highlight likable indie darling ‘The Big Sick’

When it comes to romantic comedies, there are few that I actually like. Similar to my opinions on horror movies, some romantic comedies become predictable in their fairy-tale, happily-ever-after endings that you can see coming by the third act. Sure, it’ll have your heart racing and you’ll feel for the characters and their relationship, but you know how it could end up before the end credits roll. Plus, how often does love in real life work out that way? But I digress. The Big Sick is not one of those movies; loaded with heart, laughs, and real-life reliability to make this film one of my favorites for the year.

Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistan-born comedian looking for his big break, meets grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) Gordon during a show. The two fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, forcing her into a medically-induced coma, Kumail must navigate being a comedian, confronting her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings for Emily and about what he believes.

Being a Judd Apatow production, you should have known the main character would be a comedian, but if you can look past that, you are in for a great movie. Director Michael Showalter did direct a romantic comedy, but this movie stretches beyond that simple categorization. It digs into clashes across cultures and laughs that are specific to Nanjiani’s experiences as a Pakistan-born citizen, enduring casual and, sometimes, pointed racism. Showalter makes the tonal shifts with grace, taking the audience out of the specter of Emily’s illness with laughter over Kumail’s interactions with his career, along with his and Emily’s parents.

Written by the real-life couple of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, this film allows the couple to be completely vulnerable to others, allowing the audience an intimate glimpse into a deeply personal and traumatic time of their lives. They instill honesty into moments, both large and small, that The Big Sick can’t help but touch that tender part in your heart. You instantly want to pull for the couple all the way. Nanjiani’s front-and-center presence is crucial to the film’s emotional connection. He’s struggling to make ends meet; working as an Uber driver by day and a standup comic by night. He’s also struggling against his parent’s wishes for him to be happy – as long as it includes an arranged marriage and carry on their cultural traditions. When he meets Emily, who heckled him during his set, you can instantly tell the chemistry between them. Kazan and Nanjiani had instant chemistry from the start of their easy back and forth banter that only grows more enjoyable as the film progresses. While Kumail is struggling, Emily has life a little easier with plans for a steady career that she loves. Emily is not a rom-com heroine that seeking approval from anyone; she’s a strong and witty character, whose influence you can feel, even once she’s lying in a hospital bed for much of the film’s midsection.

Emily’s parents, played with middle-aged comedic brilliance by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, were not accepting of Kumail in the start as the comic is in the uncomfortable position of getting to know them under less than ideal circumstances. The interaction between the couple and Nanjiani through the daily highs and lows of the film and playing off one another is surprising and entertaining to watch. Hunter’s no-nonsense Beth is a force of nature as the frustrated, frightening mom while down-to-Earth Terry is the opposite as Romano is great in this unusual dramatic role for him.

Being a supporter of interracial relationships, I felt connected to Kumail Nanjiani especially as far as seeking acceptance from your family about who you are dating. While I’m not bound by cultural traditions, you do face a judgment of dating outside of your race. This film speaks to those couples who seek inspiration or clarity in their struggle of who they are, what’s right, and attempting to find that happy medium between their culture and who they want to be.

My only drawback for the film is the run time. Like a number of movies that Judd Apatow has been involved with, it goes on a little longer than it should, especially towards the end. This film could benefit from some tightening around that area, but this film is still a great watch. It’s a great movie, especially a date movie, that the audience truly benefits from.

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