The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Writers: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano

Review by Cameron Kieffer

I’m not gonna lie. I like rom-coms. Whether they’re raunchy like There’s Something About Mary, or well-written and sweet like Notting Hill, there’s just something about watching an amusing love story play out that I’ve always enjoyed, even as a kid. The trouble is, there all so formulaic anymore. We’ve gotten so many variations of the boy-meets-girl, boy-does-something-douchey, girl-leaves-boy, boy-wins-girl-back-through-some-outlandish-scheme trope. I was fortunate enough to catch The Big Sick this past summer. It’s definitely a rom-com, it’s unlike any you’ve probably seen before.

The film centers on Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), an Uber driver by day, and promising stand-up comedian by night.  Kumail comes from a devout Muslim family. While his family is mostly supportive of him, his mother regularly invites available Pakistani girls to meet her son, in hopes inciting a romantic relationship.  Unbeknownst to his parents, Kumail is not interested in their customs and has become disenchanted with their heritage, longing for something different. Enter Emily (Zoe Kazan).

Emily is exactly Kumail’s type: she’s smart, she’s pretty, she’s got a great sense of humor.  She also happens to be white and non-Muslim. After a one-night stand, the two gradually grow close, and love begins to blossom, despite Emily’s early hesitation. Not long after, a misunderstanding causes Emily to doubt Kumail’s commitment, forcing him to reveal that his culture would never allow him to marry her. The two go their separate ways until Kumail learns that Emily has ended up in the hospital with a lung infection.

Realizing he’s in love with Emily, Kumail remains by her side, even as she’s placed into an induced coma. Not knowing where else to turn, he reaches out to her parents Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) who have significant issues of their own. Initially resentful of Kumail, Emily’s parents grow to admire and respect Kumail and even come to his defense during an altercation with a racist heckler. Much of the film at this point deals with Kumail bonding with Terry and Beth and how their dynamic changes them all for the better as they wait, and hope, for Emily to recover.

And that’s a big part of what makes the film unique: the film focuses just as much on Kumail’s relationship with Emily’s parents, if not more so than his relationship with Emily. As the title suggests, The Big Sick is both a reference to Emily’s illness and the catalyst for what brings the other three characters together. The romance between the two leads is a huge part of the film but ultimately takes up very little of the film’s actual running time. It’s a risky move that pays off very well.

While the subject matter is pretty heavy, this is a rom-com after all, with plenty of emphasis on the com-part.  This movie is hilarious throughout, thanks to a witty script by star Nanjiani and Emily van Gordon. The story is about so many things: love, heartbreak, betrayal, self-discovery, racism, and acceptance. Everything’s handled so incredibly well that it all just works. There’s even a 9/11 joke that should not work but so totally does. Nanjiani takes a lot of inspiration from his own life, family, and experiences to tell a story that is so incredibly earnest and funny you can’t help but invest in this seemingly-doomed love story. I won’t spoil the ending here, nor will I say how much of the story is true. Just trust me, the less you know about it, the better. It makes for a much more engrossing experience.

So much of the film’s quality is owed to the cast. As Emily’s parents, Romano and Hunter have a dynamic that is completely believable.  They rarely seem to get along, but you still get the sense that they still love each other. As they grow to care for and trust Kumail, we see their feelings for each other begin to intensify, albeit much more gradually. Romano is funny as ever, mostly because his character is not funny. Like, at all. He is a very awkward adult who has made some poor decisions and is rarely in control. This makes Terry a very endearing character, even with some pretty major flaws. Hunter, as always, is a force of nature and you never doubt for a moment how she feels about anyone in the film at any given moment.

Relative newcomer Zoe Kazan is an utter delight as Emily. She’s such a girl-next-door type but never seems like just a love interest. She’s the star of her own story, which just happens to converge with Kumail’s. The two have such great chemistry. It’s a shame we don’t see more of them together for the film’s second half.  

The film’s only weakness, as far as I’m concerned, is Nanjiani’s performance. Not that he’s bad by any means, but he’s a much better writer than an actor.  He’s good when Kumail’s being sweet or funny (his deadpan delivery of that 9/11 joke is perfect). During some of the more intense scenes, his performance is somewhat lacking, particularly during the break-up scene.  He does make up for his dramatic shortcomings with a charisma that helps him carry the film otherwise, and you truly do end up rooting for him in the end.

The Blu-Ray release features a number of special features, including:

  • Cast and Filmmaker Commentary, including writers Nanjiani and Gordon.
  • A Personal Journey: The Making of The Big Sick. A behind-the-scenes featurette, with interviews with Kumail and Judd Apatow, among others.
  • The Real Story features Kumail and Emily talking about the real-life story that inspired the film.
  • 2017 SXSW Film Festival Panel.
  • The Big Sick: The Other Stuff, which features outtakes and a gag reel.
  • Deleted Scenes.
  • The Bigger Sick: Stick Around for More Laughs.

The Verdict:

Buy it! If you’ve seen the film, you already know you want to watch it again. Don’t lie to yourself. And if you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s truly one of the best films of the year, and it deserves your money. Seriously, put down the new Transformers movie, you don’t need it. Nobody does.


Cameron Kieffer
Cameron Kieffer wears many hats. He is a freelance writer and artist, creator of the webcomic "Geek Theory" and is co-host of the Nerd Dump podcast. He lives in Topeka with his wife and increasingly growing comic book collection.

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