Synopsis – Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gordon fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.
My Take – I think by now we all know how romantic comedies work – a guy and a girl meet & start hating each other at first, but through some life changing bonding, the quirky odd couple fall in love, yet end up breaking up again as one of them lies or just openly accepts that they want different things, yet, somehow with an often hilarious yet cheesy climax sequence, the two decide to work out their differences, confess their love to each other and live happily ever after. Personally, I believe out of all the genres out there, romantic comedies are more often than not the hardest to connect to, usually because they all tend to blend together by following pretty much the exact same formula. However, coming to this film, I would suggest you leave all your expectations outside as this Michael Showalter directed feature breathes new life into the genre, by being much more than just a simple, beautiful and genuinely funny film. It’s been a while since I saw a film that so effortlessly balance the genre & services each aspect of them equally. What is fascinating about this film is that this Judd Apatow production is based on the real-life love story of its lead star Kumail Nanjiani (who also wrote the film) & co-writer of the script, Emily V. Gordon & what makes the plot of the film so incredibly relatable is its central focus is the two star-crossed lovers caught between two seemingly incompatible worlds. By using witty humor, charming leads, and a socially important topic, director Michael Showalter really has done a bang-up job in balancing the romantic, comedic & dramatic elements of one of the best films of this summer.
The story follows Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a thirty-year-old Pakistani Muslim, who along with being an Uber driver is also a struggling standup comedian in Chicago. Despite moving to the U.S. years ago, his family continues to carry their religious & social beliefs and expect Kumail to do the same. During one of his comedy session, Kumail is unexpectedly heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American white girl, who cannot be more different from him and his family, yet the both of them hit if off immediately, yet try to end their newly formed relationship as a fling but can’t help falling in love and start dating. Unfortunately, Kumail is aware of something Emily isn’t: his strict Muslim parents Sharmeen and Azmat (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Schroff) believe in arranged marriages to ‘nice Pakistani girls’ and a relationship with – let alone a marriage to – Emily risks disgrace and familial exile. A medical crisis brings Kumail further into dispute, this time with Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who have their own very strong opinions about Kumail. What follows is a hilarious, but also heartfelt story about love, family, the fear of disappointing your family and the clash between liberal/ more relaxed belief and strict tradition. While based on a true story, I’m sure parts have been fictionalized to bring the drama and the humor of the events to the screen, but it appears that the basic Romeo & Juliet premise is based on the screen writers’ real relationship. The film’s ability to balance the deadly serious and the comedic reminds me of the wonderful film 50/50 (2011) which also dealt with a deadly illness with a similar light touch. This beautiful film which deals so well with the complexities of overcoming cultural differences serves as a good anecdote to our charged political climate and especially with the demonization of Islam that has become all too dangerous now days. There’s so much to praise about this film, but it’s fair to say that the comedy is the very best part of it all. On the one hand, it’s full of fantastically funny gags that will have you bursting out laughing, not only poking fun at American and Pakistani culture, but also being witty and quick-thinking enough to keep surprising you with more and more hugely hilarious jokes throughout the film. On the other hand, there’s something very heartfelt and real about the humor here. This isn’t in any way, shape or form a dumb romantic comedy, but rather a film that shapes its sense of humor around the way the story is developing. So, when things are going well in the relationship, there’s lots of light, hugely funny comedy, and when things hit a rough patch, the film manages to keep you laughing while still honoring the dramatic and emotional nature of the story. The film brings a certain freshness and an efficiency to the way the film marries personal comedy with human drama about difficult, real subjects. It hasn’t been done this well since 2007’s Juno, a film that earned a Best Picture nomination and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for its witty and blunt take on real issues facing teens and parents. As an Indian Muslim myself, I do understand the importance of family stored in our minds from a very early age, but what happens when your significant other turns out to be slightly different from them, like who do you side? who is more important? Your significant other or your family? That can be a challenging question when it comes to your development as a human being. While it doesn’t say much about you and how you react to people, it certainly says something about their personality.
Should you side with you other half, that means you are willing to dodge bullets and rarely care about the opinions of other people, but if you chose family, some people would consider it as a cowardly move as you possibly don’t want to get rid of the safety net laid out by your parents, you see it’s not a win-win situation! Luckily the film doesn’t waste time by divulging too much into these issues (maybe in the sequel?), but relies on rather being a cute examination of these kinds of relationships. You usually don’t see many interracial kinships, but this one examines a lot of the complications that arise from both family’s opinions to between the lovers. It even manages to subvert a lot of tropes you typically find in these romance comedies, like how the couple has their “blow out” much earlier, which only makes the situation even more complicated if she recovers. This might be true if one is trying to parse out this or that or the other with the characters, but this is over-simplification. They are an obstacle for Kumail, but really his biggest enemy is himself, how he views what his family has put on him, what his own culture has done to his mind, and at the same time reconciling with being a modern American given all the relative opportunities everyone else has. And it is at heart a love story, but what is likable and appealing is that Nanjani and Gordon cleverly make sure that the attention isn’t all gone from having another love story being depicted, that of Emily’s parents and their own struggle after so many years of marriage and during a stressful time. Thankfully, the film doesn’t fall back into genre clichés or tropes, doesn’t fall back into an overly physical comedy (like most comedies do now), and it most certainly doesn’t go the direction you think it’s going to go. The tonal shifts might seem extreme at first, but they gradually cement a powerful narrative that makes for a lot of laughs but also becomes bittersweet and endearing without resorting to a hint of sentimentality. From here, the comedy aspect gradually becomes something of a supporting part to a deeper character study and exploration of family and cultural pressures even in the face of unanticipated grave events. Yes, this film is hilarious and emotional, but what really makes the film stand out is how it handles its sensitive subjects. Kumail comes from a strict, traditionalist, Pakistani Muslim family living in America, so he is going to struggle with the type of life he wants to live and the one his family want him to live, while also experiencing his fair share of 9/11 and Isis comments and overall bigotry. How the film handles these sensitive matters is outstanding, it doesn’t cower from both debating issues and making some very controversial jokes surrounding them. The film doesn’t tiptoe around these things, but also doesn’t make the film all about them either, being loud and proud without being pretentious. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced, but is infused with a comedian’s sense of humor that captures the real human comedy that exists in all personal relationships. You will die laughing when Emily’s bewildered father turns to Kumail in a hospital cafeteria and asks him, “What do you think of 9/11?” and Kumail responds as a comedian should to such an outrageously stupid question. You will have a hard time not relating to the characters in this film. We all are or know a Kumail, or Emily, or her parents Beth and Terry, or his parents…or his brother. With these believable characters, the film finds its strength. Every single one of them is flawed but deeply real. You can scoff at their behavior but somewhere in your world this person exists. A romance is only as good as its leads and their chemistry. Luckily, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan grace the screen with a refreshingly awkward and charming presence. Kumail Nanjiani is wonderfully restrained, delivering a performance driven by pure feeling. Zoe Kazan is extraordinary, although she gets limited screen time in comparison to the others, the actress manages to leave a solid mark. Ray Romano & Holly Hunter are flawless. While, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Shenaz Treasury & Adeel Akhtar are all excellent. Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham & Kurt Braunohler too get their moments to shine. On the whole, ‘The Big Sick’ is an enjoyable and poignant romantic comedy that highly engrosses and emotionally resonates.
Directed – Michael Showalter
Rated – R
Run Time – 120 minutes