Comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s name isn’t normally synonymous with romance, but somehow he manages to blend his insightful, observational humor into a charming love story. Also, spoiler alert: this movie is based on his real-life love story to his wife Emily Gordon.
The Big Sick is the story of Kumail (played by Nanjiani), a Pakistani born stand-up comedian, who meets Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), a graduate Psychology student, at one of his comedy club shows. After a traditionally failed pick-up line attempt, Emily goes back to his apartment for a one-night stand only to realize they can’t stay away from each other and a relationship blossoms. The story is one we’ve seen plenty of times before, “an average guy falls for a girl society would have him believe is out of his league; in one way or another the dude blows it & tries to win her back for the remainder of the film”. This movie is different than others, in that on top of all that it also deals with a lot of cultural intricacies that children of immigrants may be facing in America today. Emily and Kumail are in the beginning parts of new relationship bliss when the truth about the future of their relationship comes out; being the child of two Pakistani immigrants, Kumail is expected to be a “good Muslim boy” and marry the woman they choose for him. Every family dinner his mother acts surprised when a new Pakistani bride-to-be candidate comes over who just “happened to drop in”. Out of fear of being excommunicated from his family, Kumail plays along with his parents plan, entertaining these women through dinner but nothing further. When Emily discovers the truth she storms out, effectively ending a relationship that Kumail can’t definitively see a future in. As the title predicts, soon Emily falls gravely ill and is placed in a medically induced coma as her body fights the infection rapidly spreading through her tissue. While she’s kept alive by a ventilator, Kumail has the classic struggle between his heart and his family expectations.
I know you’re probably thinking: wait, isn’t this supposed to be a comedy? Trust me, the movie is riddled with hilarious jokes, brilliant comedic timing, and artful character building. Kumail’s comedy club crew is made up of real-life comedians Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler. You have veteran actors Ray Romano and Holly Hunter who play Emily’s parents, and who, at one point almost start a bar fight with their sassy remarks and quick wit. I quickly fell in love with the characters and the story; the chemistry between Nanjiani and Kazan is practically palpable. This script is filled with social depth, questions about identities, and battles American-grown immigrants might be facing behind closed doors. The thing I love most about this film is that it is genre-bending; you could call it a romantic-comedy and that would technically be true because there are indeed components of both romance and comedy. But Roger Ebert said it best, “it clashes across cultures and generations for laughs that are specific to Nanjiani’s experience but also resonate universally.”
This movie is a much-needed jolt of life into the romantic-comedy genre, bringing with it a tale of life, love, and laughs. An impossible story you’d never believe wasn’t written just for entertainment: a man who realized he was in love with a woman while she was in a coma, ends up being a great love story for our generation.
**This original review was written for The Barbershop Show**