Not every real-life relationship deserves its origin story to be made into a romantic comedy. The Big Sick, the product of husband and wife writing team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (TV’s The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail), is probably a movie that they may have preferred not to have written. Life happened, however, and it was able to be shaped into narrative form. This is the loosely fictionalised version of their story.
After standup comedian and Uber driver Kumail (Nanjiani, TV’s Silicon Valley) is heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan, The Monster) at a gig, they start dating. Kumail’s parents (Anupam Kher, Sense8, and Zenobia Shroff) keep trying to set him up with a nice Muslim girl, and he is unable to tell them about Emily. Shortly after the two break up, Emily goes into a coma, and Kumail reevaluates his feelings for her as he gets to know her parents, Terry (Ray Romano, Ice Age: Collision Course) and Beth (Holly Hunter, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Despite the title, The Big Sick is smart enough to give Emily enough time with Kumail in a conscious state before she succumbs to her illness. As is legally mandated for a romantic comedy, they have a meet-cute, and she gives Kumail countless reasons to like her company, while he gives her only a few (he is funny, but he is both a slob and a galoot). The script doesn’t pretend to balance both of their personalities, and it subverts many of the clichés of the genre.
Nanjiani and Kazan are both charismatic and have chemistry, but The Big Sick shifts into another gear altogether with the introduction of Terry and Beth. Romano has a depth of character and range surprising to anyone who has only seen his work in sitcoms, and Hunter is an unalloyed delight. There’s a genuine tenderness to the development of the trio and the film veers into territory suggesting that Kumail is platonically romancing his potential in-laws and all that that entails. Gordon and Nanjiani’s script eschews easy solutions, however, and is the better for it.
Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris), generally more known for his own comedy writing, has a light touch and never belabours any of the points that his actors are trying to make. There’s a certain delicacy to the script and Showalter’s treatment of it allows it to breathe. To make a film designed to convey sentiment without drowning it in sentimentality is an achievement, and Showalter nails that. Without overemphasising either the laughs or the emotion, The Big Sick is a romantic comedy that feels genuine.
The Big Sick is a clever, deeply felt and, importantly, funny romantic comedy. Most relationships are too uneventful to inspire a romantic comedy, so through The Big Sick we have all learned an important lesson about life in America: get a financially ruinous health problem, then make a movie about it. It just might be a good one, and at any rate you’ll get insurance coverage out of it. Everybody wins.
The Big Sick opened in Australian cinemas on August 2, 2017.
Directed by: Michael Showalter.
Starring: Kumail Nanjiana, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.