by Paislee House, Film Critic
“The Big Sick” is a comedy, romance, drama and a kinda-sorta biopic. It is a multifaceted film covering a multitude of issues in funny and graceful ways. Directed by Michael Showalter, who has directing credits in mostly television, “The Big Sick” is proof the comedy genre can be layered, relevant and emotional.
Though “The Big Sick” isn’t 100 percent a true story, it comes from a very real place. The film was written by Kumail Nanjiani, who plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, and his real-world wife Emily V. Gordon. While the film is incredibly funny, one of the best parts is how emotionally grounded in reality it is. The trials and feelings of the characters seem authentic and feel relatable.
Not only are Nanjiani and Gordon from two very different worlds – Nanjiani coming from a traditional Pakistani family and Gordon who grew up in North Carolina – but they have to overcome the enormous obstacle of a new significant other being confronted with a serious illness. Nanjiani and Gordon achieve a level of honesty in their writing that most people dream of, and it is this aspect of the film that makes it so irresistibly charming.
On top of a great script is a movie with an insanely talented cast. Nanjiani is hilarious and likeable. As an audience, we root for him as he struggles with Gordon’s sickness, meeting her parents under extraordinary circumstances and avoiding his parents’ plans of an arranged marriage. He and Zoe Kazan have great on-screen chemistry even when Kazan’s character is in an unresponsive state.
In addition to two great leads, “The Big Sick” has a great supporting cast, especially Holly Hunter who plays Gordon’s mom. She is a no-nonsense, Southern woman who ended up being one of my favorite characters in the entire film. Though many romantic comedies often use the supporting casts for cheap cameos or as props, each supporting role serves a purpose in “The Big Sick.” This choice clearly sets it apart from its genre counterparts.
The impeccable quality of the film is only aided by its approach to the complexities of multicultural relationships and growing up in a foreign place. Not only does the film contain a compelling love story, but also a story of a young man wrestling with his American life by way of Pakistani parents. Throughout the movie we see Nanjiani eat dinners with his family. At every dinner the doorbell rings and his mother remarks, “I wonder who that could be.” Each time it is an eligible Pakistani woman who Nanjiani could potentially marry. While Nanjiani is falling in love with Gordon, he is troubled by the fact that his love for a white woman could lead to him being shunned by his family.
In the midst of Nanjiani struggling with his Pakistani identity and the expectations of his parents, he is trying to make it as a comedian. There are several moments in the film of Nanjiani performing stand-up and sometimes bombing. In fact, one of the best moments in the film comes when Nanjiani brings Gordon’s parents, Terry and Beth, to one of his shows, putting Beth’s bold nature on full display. Seeing Nanjiani go through the trials and tribulations of trying to become a successful artist, despite the wishes of his parents, is something many people can relate to. I mean, who doesn’t have parents who would rather them become a doctor or lawyer?
Comedy is a popular genre, but its films are often left out of “high cinema” classifications. “The Big Sick” manages to achieve an unrivaled level of comedy while telling an emotional, complex and modern love story. I left the theater amazed and still can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about the movie.
“The Big Sick” is currently playing in select cities. It will open in wide release July 14.