To take a personal look into someone’s life in cinema is always a treat. When you get an inside view of that life told by the same person who lived it, it brings a whole new level of depth to the storytelling. Kumail Nanjiani allows audience members to experience how he met his wife, Emily Woods in his latest film, The Big Sick. Kumail Nanjiani, who plays himself, is small time Chicago stand-up comedian trying to break into the field of one man shows. After a set at his comedy club one night, he meets Emily who is drawn in by his deadpan humor and they spend the night together. After several months of dating, Emily becomes suddenly ill and is placed in a medically induced coma. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter star as Emily’s concerned parents, Beth and Terry, who fly in to oversee her treatment. As they spend their days at the hospital, Kumail builds a relationship with Emily’s parents that may be even stronger than his relationship with Emily herself.
Going into The Big Sick, my mind was one place … clichéd romantic comedy. It has all the clichés of boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl goes into a coma, boy must meet parents and forms awkward relationship, the usual. After leaving the theater, I am convinced that this is one of the best romantic comedies I have seen in recent years. The amazing part about this movie is that it dealt with some serious issues in life, but handled them with humor. The movie injected a good dose of humor into their portrayal of a difficult time in someone’s life. Kumail’s response to other characters, with his constant humor, made for a hilarious film that provided a lot more laughs than I was expecting going in.
Kumail Najiani is a very likable stand-up comedian, who is struggling to expand his career while working as an Uber driver. With his outlandish personality, he is able to connect with pretty much anybody who crosses paths with him. I’m trying to think of a serious flaw for this guy, but I honestly can’t find one. When we are introduced to Emily Wood’s parents, the tension is so uncomfortable that you are unsure who you should feel bad for, him or Emily who is still in a coma. It’s the type of awkward where you want to turn your head away because you don’t want to see the awkwardness in its full glory … yeah it’s that uncomfortable. As the story develops, the relationships begin to develop as well into something that is tolerable and interesting. As the film goes on, it becomes clear that Kumail’s honest take on life brings out the best in those around him, including Emily’s parents who bring their own complicated set of issues. While dealing with the reality of his girlfriend’s serious health issues, Kumail is thrown into the middle of the couples’ crumbling relationship which he handles with his usual humor and grace.
Zoe Kazan, who has previously stared in films such as Ruby Sparks, What If and Monster, is a great actress who I’m sure will break into more blockbuster roles soon. While Emily has a fairly small amount of screen time, her presence moves the movie to be more emotionally impactful as the whole story focuses on her and the relationships of the people who love her. Even though her appearance does seem brief, it truly feels as if she and Kumail are just sitting down and telling us about how they met, something all couples love to do, but instead of Emily Woods sitting there it’s Zoe Kazan moving across the screen. Kumail and Zoe’s chemistry is spot on and develops nicely as a typical relationship does. Their relationship was honest and the look into it felt like an average relationship, nothing felt over the top or blown out of proportion.
Kumail is part of a traditional Pakistani family which allows the film to deal with complex family traditions head on as well as overcoming cultural differences. Kumail comes from a culture where parents are expected to arrange marriages for their children and the notion of pursuing a “love marriage” is seen as an embarrassment to the family. Throughout the film, he struggles with balancing his family’s expectations for his future and his desire to live a traditional American lifestyle. As he pulls away from his family and their expectations of him, he finds himself getting closer to Emily’s parents, especially her father. It has a very “one door closes, another opens” feel as Kumail finds himself moving further from his family and their traditional values while simultaneously developing a stronger and stronger bond with Emily’s family.
The Big Sick is a beautiful, honest look at culture, relationships, love, and finding yourself. I can’t wait to add this film to my personal collection at home. I expect to see more of Kumail Nanjiani in films in the near future. This movie is a great time if you are looking for a humorous interpretation of a modern love story.
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The Big Sick runs 2 hours, and is rated R for language including some sexual references.