The Big Sick

The Big Sick is a delightful heartwarming original romance and the perfect antidote for the current fearful intolerant times threatening to separate people from various backgrounds instead of uniting them which will resonate with many filmgoers. 

Kumail Nanjiani, a TV actor on HBO’s Silicon Valley, plays himself in 2007 when he was a struggling comedian and dating his white Christian girlfriend Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) who he met as a grad student at the comedy club in Chicago during one of his standup routines and is based on their real-life romance.

Kumail dreams of making it big as a stand-up comic and actor in Chicago. He practices his cultural brand of comedy at a small comedy club by night and works as an Uber driver by day. His parents are devout Muslim Pakistani Americans who are busy trying to match him up with a steady array of Pakistani American girls who keep dropping by the house whenever he comes over for dinner. Yes visions of Meet the Patels (2015) and Punchline (1988) come to mind. 

What Kumail is hiding from his parents is that he enjoys his American lifestyle and is not interested in their cultural tradition of arranged marriages. He just wants to be like other normal American guys his age, but he can’t tell his girlfriend what his parents are expecting of him for fear of losing her, his parents, or both. 

Kumail and Emily have a charming playful chemistry together and we enjoy watching their courtship flourish. But when the two are at a stage in the relationship where Emily wants to meet his parents and for him to meet hers, Kumail tries to stall while he figures out how to explain his family situation. When she eventually finds out on her own, she’s heartbroken, accusing him of lying to her and bitterly breaks up with him.

After the abrupt breakup they go their separate ways and Kumail goes back to his old life of dating random girls he meets at the comedy club. But it so happens that this time fate steps in to give them both a reality check that will make them see each other in a whole new light and bring them back together in a most unusual way.

Like a classic Bollywood musical where our hero couple, after a magical courtship, suddenly separate during an angry disagreement, and then unexpectedly find themselves drawn back together after a big tragic event, so Kumail and Emily are reunited during a traumatic medical crisis when fate strikes a tragic blow.

At this point The Big Sick turns into an emotional hospital nightmare with hilarious awkward moments when Kumail rushes to Emily’s bedside after he discovers that she has fallen ill with a mysterious infection. He eventually finds himself face to face with Emily’s parents who know all about what has happened between him and their daughter and are none too happy to see him.

The situation for Kumail keeps getting more and more bizarre as we are kept in suspense and stitches with Kumail’s sincere deadpan facial expressions and dry humor when he’s confronted with serious doctor’s questions and Emily’s worried parents, played perfectly and honestly by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who are stuck in the hospital together for days while waiting for news of Emily’s condition. 

The Big Sick, which premiered at Sundance, walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy, touching on interracial relations, cross-cultural clashes, Islamophobia, and family bonds, resulting in a big emotional payoff. The film’s significant themes of tolerance, acceptance and diversity are a welcome trend made more relevant in today’s tense political environment of Trump’s volatile America.


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