Film Review

The Big Sick is as genuine and heartfelt as romantic comedies come

By Leigh Monson

   The romantic comedy may be a tired and trope-riddled genre, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a completely lost art to show the romantic development between two people. At first, director Michael Showalter and writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani seem to have made a sweet cross-cultural love story with The Big Sick, but as the titular twist to a familiar narrative takes hold, this stranger-than-fiction true story of its writers and star reveals itself to be something special and unique, and not just because the humor trends toward the raunchier sensibilities of other Judd Apatow productions.
   The set-up is relatively conventional. Kumail (playing himself) is a stand-up comedian, and Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) is a heckler-turned-one-night-stand-turned-girlfriend as the two come to recognize their connection is too playful and humorous to be a simple fling. However, there’s a problem: Kumail is from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family, and his parents have been introducing him to a slew of young Pakistani women they wish him to marry. What’s nice about how this conflict is portrayed is that there is never any sense of cultural superiority from either party; Kumail recognizes that he is incapable of falling in love with someone after marrying them as a stranger, but this doesn’t delegitimize the marriages or his brother and parents either. There’s a much needed sense of cultural sensitivity to the film that would have likely been lost had a non-Pakistani person attempted to portray it.
   However, things take a turn for the strange when, after a relationship blow-up over Kumail lying to his family over Emily’s existence, Emily falls ill to an unknown infection and is placed in a medically induced coma. Kumail sticks around the hospital and comes to know Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who at first are reticent to interact with their daughter’s ex-boyfriend. However, as they spend more time together, they come to realize what exactly attracted Emily to him in the first place, and Kumail rediscovers why he fell in love with Emily. It may seem strange for the heart of a romantic comedy to lie in a man getting to know his ex-girlfriend’s parents while she’s effectively out of the picture, but the film does an excellent job of balancing Kumail’s developing feelings with Emily’s lack of autonomy while in her coma. The question isn’t whether Kumail’s love for Emily is strong enough to conquer her mysterious illness, but whether Emily will accept a more honest Kumail after she has spent his emotional journey unconscious.
   This leads to a somewhat protracted third act as all the pieces of Kumail and Emily’s relationship, their respective families, and Kumail’s accelerating career as a comedian all reach a comfortable resolution, but even as the plotting slows the script and delivery are wickedly funny. There really are no other films quite like The Big Sick, as the usual romantic comedy just isn’t as weird and unbelievable as the ways in which we fall in love in real life. Prepare for some intense feelings as you watch the credits roll. But don’t worry; they’ll be good ones.  4.5/5 stars

Leigh Monson is technically a licensed attorney but somehow thinks being a film critic is a lot more fun. Leigh loves both award darlings and hilariously bad films, does not believe in superhero movie fatigue, and calls it like he sees it.