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His Big Fat Pakistani-American Life: The Big Sick

Updated on July 21, 2017

Theatrical poster



The Big Sick tells the story of a most unusual romance. Based on the story of his real life, Kumail Nanjiani stars as a stand-up comic in Chicago who shares an apartment with fellow stand-up Chris (Kurt Braunchler) and works as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Whenever he joins his parents for dinner, Mrs. Nanjiani (Zenobia Shroff) always invites a young Pakistani woman who just happens to be in the neighborhood to meet him. He has a box full of photos of women who don't interest him. During his set, Kumail gets distracted by a fan named Emily Gardner (Zoe Kazan). After the show, he meets her and explains that any noise from the audience, including her cheer, is a form of heckling. Their conversation leads to the start of a relationship between the two. Kumail's married brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) tells his sibling to break it off with her, as their parents would never approve. When Emily discovers the photo box, Kumail expresses uncertainty over their future, and she leaves him.

However, Emily soon falls ill and heads to the hospital. An acquaintance of both calls Kumail when she has to leave Emily's side so someone will be there for her. When he gets there, Kumail receives some serious news from the attending physician. Emily has a massive infection, needs immediate surgery, and needs to stay in a medically induced coma. In light of the news, Kumail poses as her partner and signs the consent. He then contacts Emily's parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), who come to the city from North Carolina. Even though they have no legal obligation to tell Kumail anything, Terry decides to let Kumail stay informed over Beth's objections. Beth, though, comes around, and even comes with Terry to see if Kumail can get the attention of a promoter from Montreal. Only Emily, though, can reconsider her decision. Kumail still has family and job considerations of his own.


The Big Sick succeeds not only in telling an engaging and absorbing story, but it also presents a romance that's accessible for both men and women. The movie reminds me in a good way of both the My Big Fat Greek Wedding series, which deals with love from an ethnic standpoint, and the Before series starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which gives a balanced view of romance and attraction. The Big Sick also presents a matter in relationships that seems especially timely today, as more relationships and marriages have become interracial. The movie has several moments of truth, where Kumail must decide how much Pakistani culture matters in Chicago, and how much his parents get to dictate his life. Nanjiani collaborated on the screen version of a key time in his life with Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani worked with director Michael Showalter on Showalter's previous theatrical film, Hello My Name Is Doris in 2015. Showalter lets each development reveal itself, and gives a good balance of both comedy. drama, and perspective.

Nanjiani, who's probably best known for his work on the HBO series Silicon Valley, shows he can take the lead in a screen story - and is likely to be the most personal of all his work. Unlike the rest of his immigrant family, he doesn't cling as closely to Pakistani tradition, as she shows the first time he speaks to Emily and shows her her name in Urdu. He has to break through all of the lies he's told himself and his family about wanting to go to law school and other lofty goals he knows will please his mother and his father (Anupam Kher). Emily changes everything, even if he's damaged their relationship beyond repair. Kazan shows equal measures of sweetness and contentiousness as Emily, who only shows reservations about Kumail when he admits to them himself. She has one of the funniest scenes in the film the first time she sees Kumail after awakening from her coma. Hunter is protective and feisty as Beth, and Romano is very good as the quiet and appreciative Terry, who shares wedded tales with Kumail. Kher also makes a strong impression in his limited screen time as the understanding Mr. Nanjiani. Other notables include Aidy Bryant as a fellow comic, and David Alan Grier as the comedy club MC.


The Big Sick is an unusual love story set in the proverbial American melting pot. Kumail has embraced the melting pot, and all the possibility that comes with it. He has begun to make a name for himself on the comedy stage. Kumail realizes that tradition holds a place of importance, but it also has its limitations, which include unattainable ideals. He accepts he's a long way from the place of his birth, but he can incorporate that upbringing into his routine. As he works to build his comedy career, he also wants to build his own version of the American life. He wants to connect with his audience, especially with one occasionally misguided fan in particular. Kumail wants to see the melting pot melt even more.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Big Sick 3.5 stars. New traditions await.

The Big Sick trailer


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