Plenty of stories that happen in real life don’t warrant their own film. Certainly, you might imagine, the story behind standup comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, writer Emily V. Gordon, wouldn’t warrant one, because plenty of people have had a rocky relationship that ended up well. Telling a story with lightly fictionalized versions of themselves might seem like overkill. But as The Big Sick shows, the obstacles the couple faced went far beyond what most couples endure. With a few edits to ratchet up the tension, Nanjiani and Gordon have created a romantic comedy that’s a must-see.
Kumail (Nanjiani), a comedian trying to make it in Chicago who drives for Uber on the side, meets young psychology student Emily (Zoe Kazan) at a comedy club one night. The two quickly hit it off, and what initially seems like a one-night stand turns into something more lasting. Threatening that happiness, though, is the pressure Kumail feels from his Pakistani parents to be part of an arranged marriage. When Emily discovers a series of headshots of prospective brides in a cigar box, she breaks things off. And then the real trouble begins.
Soon after, Emily comes down with a mysterious illness. Kumail agrees to pick her up from the emergency room at her friends’ request, only to find himself the only person around who can agree to put Emily in a medically-induced coma when her condition drastically worsens. He quickly finds himself stuck in a waiting room with Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), neither of whom want him around.
The arrival of Emily’s parents gives The Big Sick something unique, as Kumail is forced to interact with strangers who are aware of how much he hurt their daughter. The three do begin to bond, though, and Kumail begins to realize just how much he regrets ending things with Emily. And to the film’s credit, even though we might know how the film ends based on the couple writing it, the film doesn’t make their reunion a guarantee.
In spite of the weighty material that comes with this story, it’s worth noting that The Big Sick is funny. Plenty of scenes take place backstage at comedy clubs, and there’s also the comedy that tends to come from Kumail in many situations. That comedy, though, helps give the more emotionally taxing scenes a much greater sense of weight. The Big Sick shows how Kumail grows out of his immaturity as a person into someone more substantial. The film also wisely notes that Kumail’s growth happens while Emily happens to be unconscious, which keeps the film from just rewarding him for growth once Emily recovers.
As it turns out, The Big Sick is a great story to commit to film. It’s hilarious and heartwarming, with an experience that might seem too dramatic to be real if it wasn’t for the fact that it happened, and it smartly explores the realities of the dating world. It’s a real crowd-pleasing story that proves the romantic comedy still has some life left in it.