The Big Sick: Just When I Thought I Was Done With Rom-Coms, They Pull Me Back In

Stories about illness acting as a conduit for romance are a dime a dozen. From the excessively engaging “Geetanjali” to the ass-numbingly boring “The English Patient”, most, if not all, the stories in this specific subgenre have been explored. And then Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon walk into the room and put everyone on notice with their heartfelt, funny and moving rom-com. However, pigeonholing this film with those three adjectives and categorizing it under the rom-com genre might be considered a disservice to it.


Kumail Nanjiani, co-writer Emily Gordon (played by the charming Zoe Kazan), and director Michael Showalter delve into areas that most films either shy away from or melodramatize. As we know, it takes two to tango in a romance drama, but this film, based on Kumail and Emily’s real life courtship, throws a spanner into the works by incapacitating the lady for three-quarter of the runtime. The number two of the two in the aforementioned Tango is played by the 4 parents of the 2 characters.

The story being told here is of Kumail’s struggle to finally confront and deal with his many personal issues which include his discomfort around and his love for his family, his ethnic background, his selfish reluctance to engage with Emily’s parents, his burgeoning comedy career and so on and so forth.


I could say, the elegance with which every single facet of this complex story is told is mesmerizing. But I would be lying to you. The fact is, the film never draws as much attention to its sustained excellence. The script and direction were too busy keeping my attention solely on the story at hand. The shifts in tone, environments, and stakes occur with a noticeably high frequency but these changes are never alarming.

Most romances have one big, a mostly showy moment which grabs the audience by the throat and shoves character growth down said organ but the deft touch shown by the director and writers by sprinkling character moments through the seamlessly transitioning second and third acts deserve applause. I never felt overpowered by the admittedly heavy subject matter and when characters break and have their release, it feels authentic and earned.


It would take more than a 700-word write-up to adequately heap praise on the clever filmmaking at work here but I would be hard-pressed to not shower a fresh set of ungodly praise on the duo of Kumail and Emily. If I were to write an autobiographical film, I would be in two minds when it came to exposing the world to my many flaws. Showing one’s vulnerability in closed quarters requires an unbelievable amount of cajones. Now, to present said vulnerability to the collective world requires levels of bravery my fragile mind can’t fathom. The film is peppered with the duo’s playfulness, personality, and closeness but their selfishness, fears, desires, doubts, and flaws are never too far behind.

Another testament to the writing duo’s nerve is the portrayal of their parents who are essayed on-screen with sparking performances by seasoned veterans Anupam Kher, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter and Zenobia Shroff. Not to repeat myself here, but the sheer honesty with which the characters are written make for thought-provoking viewing. The humor might undercut the magnitude of the decisions being made but the underlying heart to those characters is never lost. I would like to be in the room when the real-life parents of the husband and wife duo watched this film with them. There is a part of me that wants to see the reactions they would have had having to watch their lives from their kids’ perspective.


The film, in the wave of many other Apatow Productions, runs for a tad longer than it needs to. But the vividly written characters, the tender direction, the heart-warming true story, a tightknit family feel the film exudes are all hallmarks of a film that shouldn’t exist during a summer movie season crammed with special-effects driven extravaganzas. But as a welcome change of pace from the run of the mill big, dumb action movie, this film’s quiet dissection into the inner workings of a cross-cultural relationship between two fully formed characters would mirror an oasis in a never ending desert of noise for the film lover/human being in all of us.


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