The Big Sick Review: Through Sickness, Health, and Religion

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In terms of quality, traditional rom coms have all but disappeared. But The Big Sick carries the tone of the more typical audience friendly fare that masters of the genre could probably strike in their sleep (Judd Apatow did produce, after all). The film is sweet and easily digestible, sporting a cast game for deepening the film beyond the ambitions of its script.

However, what people will be talking about, and understandably so, is the fact that this is the story of a Muslim man dealing with the clash of American culture versus the culture of his traditional parents. It’s the kind of perspective that pushes a good film into greatness, with its handling of the situation as satisfying as it is significant in its own existence.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a standup comedian living in Chicago. He hasn’t made it big yet, but experts in his art see potential. His parents, meanwhile, are doing everything in their power to arrange a marriage for their son with a Pakistani woman. Then Kumail meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a like-minded individual also ready for her own meet cute. The least interesting and fresh portion of the film is here, as they meet and find love in each other in a way that doesn’t change the formula in how films handle love. It’s when Kumail’s family’s culture gets in the way of that love that the film ascends to the next level.

After they break up, Emily ends up in the hospital with an infection on her lungs that has the doctors put her in a medically induced coma. This forces Kumail to interact with Emily’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both excellent) on an extensive basis, while also missing some of the “dates” his parents keep setting him up on.

Nanjiani plays Kumail’s journey of culture introspection in a very audience friendly manner, which may not have been the most interesting route to take, but is understandable as the film is clearly intended to be very audience friendly. Nanjiani and Emily V. Godron’s script, on the other hand, features all the intricacies missing from the lead performance, exploring Kumail’s disassociation with his culture and what that means for him, his family, and Emily, in a balanced, real, and often quite funny manner. The jokes fly fast in The Big Sick, and a very large percentage of them land.

And yet, by the end, the film’s rom com tone feels earned. There’s a lot of emotion throughout the second half, and it hits with surprising precision for a film that employs a few of the genre’s cliches. That real quality imbedded in the film, only wavering when Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham, playing Kumail’s two comedian friends, get a chance to riff some of that classic Apatow improv, is made natural when knowing this is in fact the true story of how Najiani met and married his wife (information that also acts as a spoiler I suppose). It still might not be the most original feeling film, but traditional genre fare that employ diversity diversity as their creative power are still a rarity. We need more films like The Big Sick to find a better understanding of other cultures within ourselves. In this case, you’ll laugh most of the way through that process. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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