Movie Review – The Big Sick

The Big Sick (2017)
Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Directed by Michael Showalter

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Kumail is an aspiring stand up comedian in Chicago who is under the constant shadow of his mother’s search for a wife. While he manages to avoid the expectations of his Pakistani heritage while keeping his family happy, Kumail chances to meet Emily. She’s just a woman at a set he’s doing, but the two click and immediately rush into a relationship. Things go wrong when Emily finds out he’s never mentioned her to his family and the reality of their situation sets in. However, the relationship takes an unexpected turn when Emily suddenly contracts an unknown disease, forced to go into a medically induced coma. Kumail is left to get to know her parents while coming to terms with his own parents in regards to Emily.

The Big Sick is unashamedly a romantic comedy, but with a twist. The story being told is based on the real events in the lives of Gordon and Nanjiani who are married. They purport to tell the story, albeit with some dramatic additions, about the story of how they met and fell in love. Gordon did indeed suffer from an intense illness in the early days of their courtship, and it was from this idea that the germ of the story grew.

The acting is the highlight of this picture, particularly the performances by Zoe Kazan (as the film Emily) and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano (as her parents). Kumail’s family is equally enjoyable, with Adeel Akhtar as his brother. Akhtar was on one my favorite, yet short-lived, British television series Utopia (look for a rewatching of that series starting in March on the blog). The weakest actor in the bunch is Nanjiani who is fine but is definitely weak in the face of the more experienced talent in the picture.

It seems the best-written parts of the film were given to Hunter and Romano’s characters, they are the ones with the most pathos and are the film’s theme summed up. Romano is a New York professor transplanted to North Carolina where he meets Hunter. Her father is furious when he first meets this outsider and learns of his relationship with Hunter. It’s pretty obvious this is meant to parallel Kumail’s struggle to confront his parents about his refusal to follow the arranged marriage path and confess his love to a white American woman.

We never get the same depth of character from Kumail’s parents who only exist to further the conflict in the film. Their only character traits seem to be a manic pressure to marry off their son to a Pakistani woman. Otherwise, they are bland plot devices that make plot things happen. This seems to be a snag in much of director Michael Showalter’s film work. The Baxter and Hello My Name Is Doris both have strong premises, like The Big Sick, end up being bland in execution. With such an exciting opportunity to explore a clash of cultures, this movie ends up resolving situations with little to no pain felt by its leads. It’s an entirely nice movie, but not very memorable and lacking the depth that should be present.

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