When life deals you this kind of story, it seems almost too good to be true. After all the difficulties and heartaches that life puts you through up to that point, it would be hard to not tell people how weird it all turned out to be. Kumail Nanjiani met Emily V. Gordon and slowly fell for each other. They broke up after difficulties with Kumail’s culture. That’s until Kumail finds out Emily is very sick and has to deal with her parents after she is put in a coma. This is a story that is ripe for melodrama, yet Nanjiani and Gordon (who also wrote the film) decided to let the film breathe into something meaningful. The Big Sick isn’t telling us that it’s a strong story worth telling, it shows us.
Kumail and Emily set the stage with Nanjiani’s struggles with stand-up comedy. Just this aspect of the film shows a major strength in The Big Sick. Instead of making comedians a driving point for most of the film, it’s used just as a setting. The comedy club is a second home to Nanjiani and his comedian friends (Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler) which naturally connects to his meeting with Emily (Zoe Kazan). Every aspect that sets up the main story is established with a lively feeling instead of relying on genre tropes of the romantic comedy.
Over the course of two hours, The Big Sick does a great job at balancing the humor of real life with the sadness. Judd Apatow’s name in the credits of a film 5-10 years back would have been a sign that the movie was worth seeing. Over the last few years, it’s become more of a warning. Generally, comedies at this length (and very often longer in Apatow’s case) overstay their welcome by shoving in improv just because it’s funny. Director Michael Showalter only adds that in when it services the story and pacing of the film. Truth be told, The Big Sick flies by and yet you don’t feel like you need to see more. The characters were a delight to be around, but you understand that their story has been told.
I personally have a hard time calling this a romantic comedy, because our female lead is missing for over half the film. But that would dismiss the section of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter that makes this film into something great. Without turning them into horrible villains, Nanjiani and Gordon successfully show their faults and love for one another (and their child) while still leaving them as an obstacle in Kumail’s way. There’s a delight to the way the relationship is presented between Nanjiani and Emily’s parents. They all crack awkward jokes due to the situation and feel equally uncomfortable by the fact that they’re all stuck together whether they like it or not.
There are so many strong creative voices behind The Big Sick that could overwhelm the tone of the film. Apatow’s reputation for overlong comedies is well known and Showalter has a long history in absurdist comedy. Both figures take a step aside to let the natural humor come to such a small, intimate story. All four leads are given room to play with the personas they have been given over the years and flesh them out in service of bringing someone’s story to the big screen. Holly Hunter is as southern and fully realized as she’s ever been and Ray Romano plays another great version of characters he’s played before. The difference between what they’ve done before and now is you can see far past the caricature’s other films like this would probably turn them into.
The biggest praise I can give The Big Sick is that it feels like a true collaboration. There’s no doubt that every single person that was a part of this was willing to compromise and give everything they had to tell this story. People disappear into the background of the film if they need to, the direction isn’t over-stylized and in your face, even the performances never try to upstage one another. This is the most cohesive, collaborative, and honest film I’ve seen in quite some time. To be honest, I can’t think of a bad thing to say about The Big Sick.
The Big Sick
- All cast-members (Nanjiani, Kazan, Hunter, Romano, etc) are fantastic and fit into their great roles with ease
- The writing from Nanjiani and Gordon deal with the possible staleness of the romantic comedy with moments that feel overwhelmingly real
- Running at two hours, The Big Sick never overstays its welcome
- Excellent use of the romantic-comedy genre to show the reality of this situation