The Big Sick Review

The big screen has experienced a burgeoning of “illness movies” in the last few years, and “The Big Sick” isn’t like any of them. Many of these films could be accused of leveraging illness for an emotional punch to the heart, but Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s story is not built around a character falling ill, but that disease is merely an unusual circumstance that reveals truths and experience common to all people.

First and foremost, however, “The Big Sick” is a comedy. Nanjiani and Gordon’s script contains dialogue and comedic bits that carry the trademark of a stand-up comedian, apropos of Nanjiani’s comedy roots. The early portion of the film plays as a modern-day comedy about a Pakistani-born comedian falling for a white psychology master’s student.

Still, the humor comes from an honest, relatable place with familiar scenarios, especially for the full range of today’s young adults. Judd Apatow’s producer fingerprints (namely his work with “Girls” and “Love”) are clearly visible, though director Michael Showalter (“Wet Hot American Summer”) is no slouch when it comes to getting laughs. Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” might be the best comparison, but the point of all this is “The Big Sick” speaks from that same comedic place that yearns for authenticity.

The true story element has a lot to do with it. Rarely do you have a husband and wife write a movie together about how they met starring one of them as themselves, and all these factors being true endears us to Nanjiani and this movie so quickly. Although it’s fairly clear the ways in which the story deviates from the truth, Nanjiani playing himself presents a kind of autobiographical fearlessness so rare in movies that we can’t help but note how invested he must feel in telling this story that he’s willing to open up to an audience in this way.


Kumail’s familial pressures as the son of devout Pakistani Muslims play a critical role in this story as well, paramount to most other dynamics in the film. Young people have been pushing against their parents’ religious impositions for a long time in comedies, but Nanjiani handles it with both a sense of humor and tactfulness that transcends tropes and stereotypes. He also communicates so thoughtfully about why breaking away from tradition and spurning the family’s wishes is so difficult for someone in his shoes. A particular scene in which Kumail talks to his family “in writing” after he’s fallen out with them displays a sensitivity and comic ingenuity that makes “The Big Sick” more than just a good comedy script, but a great film script period.

Then, when two serious dynamos in Holly Hunter and Ray Romano enter the picture as Emily’s parents, this already hilarious and poignant comedy goes to the next level. They showcase the script’s dramatic acuity while also expanding its comedic palette thanks to Hunter’s sass and Romano’s awkward mopeyness. The parents relationship to Kumail, their handling of the medical issues and overall the way they integrate into the story amplifies the film’s sincerity.

Zoe Kazan as Emily also fits perfectly into this movie with her own naturally funny style and equally strong dramatic skills. Even though Kumail seems to be painted as the main character, Kazan ensures Emily is an equal partner in the film’s events.


Independent films have been trying to blend comedy and drama in the way “The Big Sick” does so well for a long time, to the point that “The Big Sick” might not seem so original or different. But there’s a freshness and an efficiency to the way the film marries personal comedy with human drama about difficult, real subjects. It hasn’t been done this well since 2007’s “Juno,” a film that earned a Best Picture nomination and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for its witty and blunt take on real issues facing teens and parents. That movie was positioned well for an Awards-season push, and hopefully Lionsgate is prepared to remind critics and voters about “The Big Sick” come winter.

Recognition aside, “The Big Sick” is one of those few films that come out every year that will be palatable to a wide enough array of moviegoers of diverse backgrounds and ages that it can pretty confidently be recommended to anyone (who’s allowed to see R-rated movies, of course). The humor plus issues of culture, race, romance, parenting and some life-or-death stuff make for a compelling and relatable movie suited to most tastes.

 

4.5/5 Stars

 

The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
Written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano

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