Review: The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick



Michael Showalter


Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani




Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler

MPAA Rating

R for language including some sexual references

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The challenge of The Big Sick is taking a dark, inherently depressing situation and crafting a credible and entertaining comedy out of it.

What’s even more difficult is taking your own life story and exposing the joy and the sorrow to the public in hopes that they will embrace it. This kind of personal storytelling is what comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon have done with their screenplay for The Big Sick.

The film explores the relationship between a young comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) who falls in love with a graduate student (Zoe Kazan). Their cultural differences become a wedge as Kumail’s tradition-bound Muslim parents want him to agree to an arranged marriage. As Kumail tries to avoid telling his parents that he’s in love with Emily, the two have a falling out leading to his depression at their separation and hopes for reconciliation. Matters become even more complicated as Emily ends up comatose while her disapproving parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) move into her place hoping to care for their gravely ill daughter.

How do you find farce in a situation that’s inherently sorrowful. Life has a way of handling that for us, but on the big screen, it’s always been a challenge to infuse lighthearted energy into a context that’s inherently depressing. Films like Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias handle the comedy well, while films like Beaches avoid most attempts to force hilarity into the trauma. The Big Sick handles it all with aplomb, balancing humor and pathos brilliantly.

This is all accomplished with a witty script and a raft of strong performances. Nanjiani is solid as the bumbling paramour employing wry humor as a defense mechanism. Kazan is his equal with far less active screentime than her partner. We can completely understand both her frustration and her interest in this emotionally-suppressed man who’s both selfless and self-absorbed.

Romano is stronger as Emily father who doesn’t know how to handle his daughter’s sudden illness while trying very hard to act as counterbalance between the self-effacing Kumail and his wife (Hunter), who is strongest of all. Hunter leverages her years as both a comic and dramatic actress, delivering one-liners, withering stares, and complicated emotion with sterling credibility. Hers is a performance for which the supporting actress Oscar was made.

Make no mistake, The Big Sick is a pure romantic comedy. A rich appreciation of form, the film infuses tragedy into the mix in order to act as a catalyst for introspection and self-recrimination. Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is hilarious and touching in almost equal measure. While the quirkiness of the situation might seem unrealistic, it’s always rooted in palpable realism thanks to its loose basis on the courtship of Nanjiani and Gordon.

Director Michael Showalter comes from a predominantly television-based career and that seems to have positively informed his comic sensibilities, creating a film that deftly bends its various funny, touching, and outlandish moments.

The Big Sick finds the rare common ground between tragic moments and humorous ones that engages the audiences with humanity and thoughtfulness.

Oscar Prospects (made prior to Oscar nominations)

Probables: Supporting Actress (Holly Hunter), Original Screenplay
Unlikelies: Picture

Review Written

August 15, 2018

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