The Big Sick is an offbeat romantic dramedy based on the real-life courtship between Pakistan-born actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his therapist-turned-writer/producer wife, Emily V. Gordon. The pair co-wrote the script that dramatizes – in a clever and witty way – the struggles they went through to overcome cultural differences, and a major health scare, to find their happily ever after. Kumail is played by Kumail Nanjiani (not necessarily the smartest casting decision) while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan, who has much stronger acting chops, even though she’s in a coma for half the movie. The film is bittersweet and also rather timely as a platform for showcasing misconceptions about Muslim culture.
Some details of their story have been changed for dramatic and comedic effect but the gist is true to life: Kumail and Emily met when she gingerly heckled him during a stand-up routine. They had a fling that she took more seriously than he did, because he believed that eventually he’d follow the wishes of his traditionalist parents – Muslims who emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan- and marry a Pakistani woman hand-picked by his mother. Kumail is torn between his Pakistani heritage and his assimilation into western culture. So he keeps his relationship with Emily a secret from his family. That doesn’t sit well with Emily who eventually breaks it off. Then a medical crisis – the ‘big sick’ happens. Emily comes down with a mysterious illness and is placed in a medically-induced coma. Kumail is forced to re-evaluate his feelings and his choices. While sitting vigil at the hospital, Kumail meets Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. They are well-aware that the aspiring comedian broke their daughter’s heart, so they don’t quite know what to make of his constant presence at her bedside – and with them in the waiting room.
Ultimately, The Big Sick is a complicated relationship drama wrapped in a romantic comedy. It’s about the relationship between Kumail and Emily, between Kumail and his family, between Emily and her parents, between Kumail and Emily’s parents, and even between Kumail and his comedy-circuit friends. All those relationships are tackled in a sweet, poignant, and often quite funny way.
The only real drawbacks to The Big Sick are 1) Nanjiani’s acting ability pales next to the likes of Kazan, Hunter and Romano, and 2) the film feels longer than it actually is. Overall though, it’s an entertaining film about relationships, choices, regrets, and redemption. And, it’s a true love story. What’s not to love about that?