TL;DR – Emotional, yet funny, Completely relatable, yet deeply personal, a look into what makes us who we are.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
So The Big Sick was one of those delightful films where I knew nothing about it before I went to see it, which is rare in a time where not only are movie trailers plastered everywhere, but they routinely spoil the films they are promoting. To be fair I had seen one clip, the Thanksgiving Day parade, and you could infer things from the poster, but in this day and age that’s as close to not knowing as you can get. Also, I was going to give this one a pass because I’ve not found the Rom-Com genre to be anything but rehashes of the same material, for years now. So I was completely surprised, because The Big Sick turned out to be nothing like the film I was expecting to see, I’ve not been this surprised since The Dressmaker (review).
So to set the scene, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is working in a stand-up comedy club in Chicago trying to break into the next level, the coveted Montréal Comedy Festival. To make money he works on the side for Uber, and spends time with his family where his mother Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) where she tries to set him up with eligible Pakistani women “I wonder who that could be”. One night when he is performing at a standup club with his friends CJ (Bo Burnham), Mary (Aidy Bryant), and his housemate Chris (Kurt Braunohler) he was heckled from the audience, in a friendly way, and that was the day he met Emily (Zoe Kazan). Now that is about as much as I can say, because it is hard to talk about the film without discussing things that are probably best you don’t know about before you go see it. So before we continue if you have not seen The Big Sick I highly recommend it, it is a romantic comedy with a difference, it is approaching life from a different direction and it has more heart than most of the films of this genre. So from here on in be prepared for some [SPOILERS] if you have not seen the film.
Now part of why The Big Sick works is the commitment from all the cast in making this odd situation work. Yes I know it is based on real life events, and we will get to that a bit later, but a film like this could have easily come off as trite or cheesy if you didn’t approach it carefully. Everyone throws themselves into their roles providing some of the best performances I have seen all year. Kumail and Zoe have incredible chemistry together, indeed, it is that chemistry that makes their break-up all the more painful because you can feel that they would be a perfect fit for each other. All the interactions in the film feel honest and not forced for the situation, which is such a refreshing change, people act like they would if faced with that is going on.
This is reinforced by a unique setting and structure of the film. First, our two leads have broken up by the end of act one, for a very real and understandable reason, and also for a reason that likely means that this relationship is over for good. This was such a jarring moment, because this is not how a rom-com is meant to go, if there is a break up it is at the end of the second act when one person has discovered that there was a bet involved, but then they realise that they loved them anyway. However, it doesn’t stop here, because what happens when your ex gets sick, really sick and there is no one who can be there. It is one of those setting that is instantly emotional because you can feel their despair, but what happens when the doctors don’t know what is causing the sickness, and you can’t talk to Emily because she has been put into a medically induced coma to try and save her life. This is of course when Emily’s parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) arrive, and the dynamic of the film shifts again. I think this is the rawest performance I have ever seen for either of them, the pain and concern. What makes their performances work is because they are complete characters with their own history, their own drives, and they do fall into the usual tropes you find in these film. That moment when Beth raged was truly powerful, and it works so much more because it reveals afterwards what truly drives her. Terry is a man that is deeply conflicted by his past and wanting to do what is right for Emily. This is a movie about layers, and the characters are one of the places where they are deep.
Finally, and most importantly what makes The Big Stick stand out in a sea of generic cookie cutter movies is that its lead has a Pakistani heritage, and that this heritage is wonderfully woven into the movie. Kumail’s conversations with his father Azmat (Anupam Kher), mother Sharmeen, and brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) create the other emotional potential conflict in the movie. You can tell that it is written by someone who deeply understands Pakistani culture, because it is able to find the joy and the sadness in a way that only some who have lived it can know. You can feel the pain when Kumail is torn between what his family want and what he wants, in a world where he doesn’t know where his future lies, this is something I can completely sympathise with. It’s interesting what little things you can share with someone across the planet, as someone who lives in the former Empire there was that delight watching him explain cricket to the audience in his one man play. It is odd how this is revolutionary when it really shouldn’t be, but I am glad we are seeing more and more stories from diverse perspectives.
In the end do we recommend The Big Sick, of course, we do, it is full of joy and sadness, moments of great triumph and defeat, it is a move of worlds colliding, and what it means to be part of a family, and it is a film about life, and why it is worth struggling through it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Big Sick
Directed by – Michael Showalter
Written by – Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Music by – Michael Andrews
Cinematography by – Brian Burgoyne
Edited by – Robert Nassau
Starring – Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Shenaz Treasury, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant & Kurt Braunohler
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R