F-ck, I love romantic comedies. The Big Sick is a great romantic comedy that reminds even the most pessimistic viewer that rom-coms are not dead and when done right, they're just, you know, comedies that are also romantic. The Big Sick is funny as f-ck and romantic as hell. It’s also awkward, weird, unsteady, emotional, and complicated – just the best relationships. Most critics and audiences agree with me about The Big Sick. Not that this should be the industry standard or anything but it’s got a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and in its initial release last weekend, The Big Sick earned the year’s best per theater average in an opening weekend. A rom-com starring and about a dude named Kumail Nanjiani which heavily features a Muslim family is a box office hit and critical darling in Trump’s America. Even if the film was sh-tty, that fact alone would make me happy.
Kumail Nanjiani and the Zoe Kazan play Kumail and Emily, star crossed lovers from completely different cultural backgrounds, and their performances are anything but sh-tty. Kazan’s pitch-perfect Emily is based on Kumail’s real-life wife Emily V. Gordon. Gordon and Nanjiani co-wrote the script which tells the story of the first year of their relationship, including that time Gordon was put into a medically-induced coma. Ah, the old “medically-induced coma plot.” Classic. Nanjiani jokingly refers to the coma in interviews as “just a quick one, like a trip to Europe!” Most people know Nanjiani from Silicon Valley and/ or Portlandia. In The Big Sick, he proves he can carry the sh-t out of a film and should probably have his own TV series. Give him all the things. By Hollywood standards, Nanjiani is not your typical romantic leading man and that only partially has to do with his race. It’s Kumail’s nerdy personality that breaks the rom-com leading man stereotype. His deadpan, look-at-the-floor delivery is more Michael Cera than Ryan Gosling but it’s so endearing that by the first tepid glance and goofy grin he delivers, you know this is a guy who could do all the dumb sh-t in the world and you’d still take him back – which is exactly what Emily does. That’s not a spoiler because Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are happily married IRL so we all know how this story ends.
The Big Sick’s greatest strength is its portrayal of how families can infiltrate relationships in the worst way, even with the best intentions. Nanjiani’s parents, played hilariously by Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, want him to enter into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman of their choosing. Some of the funniest scenes in the film are the potential wife drop-ins at the Nanjiani family dinner table. Since I am always acutely aware of how women of colour are portrayed on screen, at first, the parade of Pakistani women “dropping in” to meet Kumail made me a bit uncomfortable. I wanted more for them. Initially, these women felt like props BUT an interaction later in the film between Kumail and one of his would-be wives makes up for any uneasiness I felt. The Big Sick does an incredible job of showing the nuance and complexity of Kumail’s culture and family dynamic.
Emily’s parents are played by a pair of little known actors you’ve definitely never heard of named Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. I’m not usually one to rush out to see Romano in anything but he’s SO good here. His shtick works because Ray Romano’s comedy is essentially just bad dad joke after bad dad joke. He brings a familiarity and vulnerability to a performance that will break your heart and have you laughing out loud. Holly Hunter is SO good too that she’s getting Oscar buzz. Guys, a rom-com starring and about a dude named Kumail Nanjiani which heavily features a Muslim family is getting OSCAR BUZZ.
Lainey and Duana often talk about the importance of specificity in storytelling, instead of universality. The Big Sick is very specific while at the same time being super relatable. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Girl gets sick. Boy deals with family drama. Why can’t this story be universal? The Big Sick has been described as “politically charged,” and while we know that interracial love can be radical in nature, regardless of politics, this movie is just a fun, hysterical and uplifting romantic comedy.
Full disclosure: sometimes, this gig (aka my side hustle) intersects with my 9 to 5. On Monday, I produced a segment on The Social, which Lainey hosted, with Nanjiani and Gordon. They were SO. FREAKING. ADORABLE. And smart. And charming. Being charmed by these two in person has probably rendered it impossible for me to write a bad review of their film but I swear, aside from my bias, the movie is really good. OK, if I’m stretching for The Big Sick’s weakness, I’d say it’s about 25 minutes too long but let’s blame producer Judd Apataw for that. His movies are habitually too long.
The Big Sick is in select theatres this weekend, opening wide on July 14th. GO SEE IT.