The Big Sick tells the story of a couple from vastly different backgrounds, who have to overcome not only their cultural differences, but also the fact that one of them falls into a coma.
With the exception of the coma, the plot description for The Big Sick sounds somewhat dull. It evokes a kind of ‘straight-to-video movie that plays on free-to-air TV at 2pm on a Sunday’ kind of vibe (if that can even be called a ‘vibe’). Despite the generic premise, The Big Sick is everything but. Every element of the film elevates it above the boring cookie-cutter rom-com it could have been. The characters feel honest, the supporting cast is incredible, the writing is poignant and charming, and, for the most part, it all really happened. The film’s protagonists, Kumail and Emily, are based on the film’s writers, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Zoe Kazan plays Emily, while Nanjiani plays himself in this true story of the beginning of their relationship.
The emotion and importance of the story to its writers is so clear on-screen. All of the details and nuances infused in the characters are so well realised, and so perfectly imperfect, that it’s easy to imagine these people truly exist, rather than being fictionalised versions of real people. While films like this are typically two handers between the leads, The Big Sick has six actors who absolutely dominate in their roles. Aside from Nanjiani and Kazan, we also have their parents, played by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, respectively. These performances, and the depth that the presence of these characters bring to the story, is instrumental in the film’s effectiveness. But more than delivering amazing performances, the two couples also exemplify the crossroads that Emily, and Kumail in particular, stand before; a marriage for love, or one that’s arranged.
Aside from the performances, the strongest element of The Big Sick is how it bucks the awful improv trend that most comedies inexplicably play into. For the most part, modern comedies are just vaguely edited improv between comedic actors. This occasionally works for a laugh in the moment, but doesn’t actually mean much in the grand scheme of the story. The Big Sick feels very written, and that’s not to say that it feels rigid or insincere, but rather that it feels purposeful and considered. Writers Gordon and Nanjiani are retelling the story of their relationship with this film, and they clearly had many things they wanted to convey. The film’s themes of culture, tradition, and the simultaneous wonder and difficulty of love, permeate through the main plot, as well as the experiences of the supporting characters.
Further on from the lack of noticeable improv, The Big Sick also does away with one of the worst occurrences plaguing modern comedies – this film never forgets that it’s a comedy. It gets dark, and serious, but the film always knows exactly what it is and stays true to that, rather than abandoning humour in the third act and just becoming a bad drama, like so many comedies do. Instead of sacrificing the laughs for the drama, it effortlessly balances both at once. It’s this balance that makes the film such a success. Life is never all one thing, as the film’s writers clearly discovered when they lived through the experiences we now get to witness on screen. And so they have made sure their film is the same; it encompasses all facets of life and embraces them as the necessities they are.
In the film it’s mentioned more than once that Kumail is a fan of the TV series, The X-Files. In reality, Kumail Nanjiani actually appeared in an episode of The X-Files in 2016.