The Big Sick – Rom-Com Across Cultures‘The Big Sick’ is a story for our times and what makes it kind of cool is that it’s a real life story – it actually happened and is not the figment of someone’s imagination. Yes, immigration, love, breakup and marriage, sickness and coma, terrorism and multiculturalism all come into it but it’s always upbeat, always funny. Big ambitious topics for a sweet little romantic tale but ‘The Big Sick’ pulls it off.
The very appealing Kumail Nanjiani (it says a lot about a changing America that our new comedians don’t feel compelled to change their first or last names to shorter more Americanized ones) and the equally winsome Zoe Kazan, along with a stellar cast of actors including Holly Hunter, Ray Romano and Anupam Kher create a very believable and very American tale, of life the way it is today.
The story is simple and charming enough – Kumail (playing himself), a full-time Pakistani-American stand-up comic and part-time Uber driver falls in love with Emily (Zoe Kazan) a grad student he meets at a comedy club. Love across cultures is never easy though it has a lot of great moments especially made for comedy. Kumail is hiding the existence of his white girlfriend from his Pakistani family while compelled to see a lot of prospective arranged Pakistani brides to appease his parents. Things get complicated when Emily comes across his stash of photographs of candidates: “Are you judging Pakistan’s Next Hot Model?”
There are cultural misunderstandings, heartbreak and a break-up and things get rougher when Emily gets sick – really sick – and is put in a medically induced coma. How the romance survives all this and how her parents played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano build a bridge with the Pakistani boy-friend they’ve never met is the rest of this surprisingly funny, surprisingly tender tale.
‘The Big Sick’ is a light romance but gets you where it counts because it is such an authentic tale for which the script was co-written by Kumail and his real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon. In the movie, all the actors are superbly cast: Nanjiani in his first dramatic role and Zoe Kazan make a very natural couple – they both have such an air of vulnerability about them that you can’t help rooting for them. Both sets of parents feel very real, very three-dimensional. The wonderful Holly Hunter and Ray Romano look as if they’ve walked in from the battlefield of a real marriage. Kumail’s parents are played by the much acclaimed actor Anupam Kher and Indian-American actress Zenobia Shroff – and they are just perfect, not at all stereotypical characters. In fact, Shroff really deserves more roles in Hollywood and Bollywood films for she’s a fine, energetic actor.
‘The Big Sick’ is a comedy but it’s also a wry meditation about relationships, love and family. What you experience is the fierce love and fights of families and how parents continue to care so much for their children who may never realize it or appreciate it. There is the chaos of cultural miscommunications and you also see how a Tupperware container of mutton biryani can be a way of caring when no hugs can be exchanged and no words uttered by an estranged mother.
The exchanges are always funny and you end up smiling through the film. ‘The Big Sick’ is about different people, different colors, misunderstandings and understandings, about South Asians and Americans creating a life together in a frenetic city. It is a movie about America today, about the ups and downs of life but seen always through the prism of humor.