Every so often in life we have experiences where we may casually remark “that would make a good movie.” The real life story of how Kumail Nanjiani (Dinesh on Silicon Valley) and his wife, Emily Gordon met is one of them. Fortunately for us, they are both talented people with the right connections to turn their unique tale into something that we all can experience. Cowritten by the two of them, The Big Sick is more than just a simple love story, it explores both family expectations and the immigrant experience in modern day America in ways that are both profound and very relatable, regardless of one’s background.
It all starts off innocently enough. Emily and Kumail meet after she sees him do standup and the casual relationship that the two embark on quickly turns to something more serious. Complications arise due to Kumail’s traditional Pakistani upbringing–his mother believes in arranged marriage and is constantly trying to set him up with a woman from his own background. Not interested in the least, he hides his mother’s efforts from Emily and things go sour fast once she finds out what has been going on and Kumail cannot commit to a future with her because of what it would do to his family. As the title of the film suggests, Emily ends up getting very sick and Kumail must reconcile his feelings for her as well as how he fits into his family and culture. It’s an honest look into the role that family and culture play into these types of relationships and it is handled better in one film than Netflix’s Master of None has managed to do in two seasons.
The Big Sick sits in a place somewhere between romantic comedy and drama. The humor, while low key, is genuinely funny. It’s observational tone fits in not only with the story but feels right at home with Kumail’s background as a stand up comedian. The laughs come often enough, but not so much that they detract from the serious undertones of the film. It walks a fine line, but does it well, showing us how humor can help us cope with stressful situations, and that in the end, that alone isn’t enough.
Some of the film’s best moments happen when Kumail is dealing not with his parents, but Emily’s. Played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, their interactions with the man who dumped their daughter while they are trying to deal with her illness are great. In these moments, you really see how their grief affects them and how they interact with this stranger during one of the most harrowing moments of their lives as parents. It is in these scenes that you forget you are watching a “comedy” and the film is better off for it.
The Big Sick does a lot of things right, both in how it portrays Kumail’s cultural struggle and in showing how people deal with such life changing events, not only Kumail and Emily’s family, but Emily herself. While romantic comedy may be the easiest label to apply to The Big Sick, it is really a lot more than that. Which is probably why I liked it so much. It’s real. And not just in the “based on true events” sense. The characters are written and acted so believably that you can’t help but get invested. It’s a date night movie for those looking for a bit more than the typical Hollywood clichés, even though you go into it knowing how it all turns out in the end.