Review of “The Big Sick”
A new rom-com that has the potential to become an old classic.
The Big Sick is a modern day romantic comedy that actually lives up to what its genre tries to be: Genuinely romantic and funny. The film’s star and co-writer Kunnal Nanjiani, creates a story that is complex, intelligent, and down to earth.
What’s mainly impressive about this film is it’s originality amongst familiar territory. The plot is a standard story of culturally mismatched lovers. There’s Kunnal (Nanjiani, playing himself in an admirable lack of pretention in that this piece isn’t at least partly autobiographical) and Emily (Zoe Kazan) as the couple who meet after she verbally applauds his open mike stand-up during his set. He charmingly tells her that even yelling praise during a comics set is heckling. This quip and her response is somewhat schmaltzy rom-com dialogue, but still works, because it’s at least partly clever unlike other meet-cutes one might see in these type of films.
They then proceed to go to Kunnal’s place and sleep together immediately. She tells him she can‘t date at the moment because she’s too busy. Being that this is a contemporary film couple, he “plays it cool” and says he doesn’t want to get involved either. Admirably, he doesn’t seem to judge her for sleeping with him right away and proceeds to win her favor. He does this despite his traditional Pakistani parents telling him he must marry a Pakistani girl in an arranged marriage.
This is where the story gets interesting with a moral quandary at the forefront. Kunnal doesn’t want to upset his parents so he meets the girls they set him up with while still seeing an unsuspecting Emily. This is what sets this movie apart from it’s peers in that it’s protagonist’s emotional stakes feel authentic. They aren’t just obligatory screenplay staples. Kunnal legitimately loves Emily and doesn’t want to lose her but also doesn’t want to lose his family. His parents come off as the standard insufferable traditionalists you see in lesser films but they also have a reasonable and resonant point of view that the old school parents in aforementioned lesser films don’t have. They actually give a speech that made me question the righteousness of Kunnal’s views, I’m willing to admit. I once read, and believe to be true, the best screenplays have conflicting ideologies that are both correct. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon‘s (Nanjiani’s wife) screenplay has this in spades.
Another bright spot in the film is Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents. Hunter and Romano are an odd pairing, but that’s the point. Their characters‘ complex relationship poignantly adds to the message of the story. Romano is primarily known as a comedic actor but really keeps up with Hunter, showing serious dramatic chops.
One thing that surprised me here was who the director was. Michael Showalter is known for his work on cynical comedies like Wet Hot American Summer. While there’s elements of that film in this work, there’s a hopeful spirit to it that his past work has lacked. What’s not surprising is that it’s produced by Judd Apatow, who’s known for comedies that have successful romantic relations amongst harsh realities (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up). This flick is another fine example of that dynamic. All of these qualities make The Big Sick one of the best rom-coms I’ve seen in recent years.