An American Tale
The Big Sick is a romantic comedy directed by Michael Showalter, starring Kumail Nanjiani along with Zoe Kazan. The film stars Nanjiani as himself, as it tells the true story of how he and his wife, Emily (played by Kazan), met, and the challenges they had to overcome in their interracial relationship. Kumail Nanjiani comes from a Pakistani family, and his parents are immigrants living in Chicago. Having fallen in love with Emily, a Caucasian woman, Kumail is faced with a difficult situation, as he is expected to respect the traditions of Pakistani families, most notably that of arranged marriages. This conflict forms the core of The Big Sick, as it explores the differences in cultural perspectives while showing us that even people who grow up in different environments can share the same underlying elements of humanity.
It’s not often that a screenplay written by a married couple about their own relationship becomes a big Hollywood release, much less a film starring the writer as himself. But The Big Sick has accumulated some largely positive buzz, first debuting at the Sundance film festival in early 2017. While Nanjiani is best known for his role in the TV comedy Silicon Valley, his is not a well-known name to the average moviegoer. Likewise, female lead Zoe Kazan and director Michael Showalter are better known for their roles in Olive Kitteridge and Wet Hot American Summer respectively, titles largely unheard of by general audiences. While the film lacks attention-grabbing stars, can The Big Sick avoid being a big disappointment, and deliver on the high expectations set by its early critical acclaim?
In a sentence: Hollywood needs more films like The Big Sick. The film is as refreshing as it is grounded, with its fair share of humour that hits more consistently than most comedies this century. Its dramatic and romantic elements hit just as hard, if not harder, as the awkward charm of Nanjiani drapes the entire film in a layer of warmth and sincerity that’s hard to come by. The screenplay is the film’s biggest strength, where brilliant performances from some supporting characters make up for the shallowness of others. This all makes The Big Sick one of the best films to be released in the pre-Oscar season of 2017, a gem amongst the high profile apes, war and superhero films that came before it. If you’re a fan of comedies, rom-coms or just fancy exploring different perspectives, look no further than The Big Sick.
He Wants to Believe
The Big Sick is a rare find as it expertly integrates culture and tradition with modern society, contrasting the deep-rooted practices of Kumail’s parents with his current-day American environment. The disengagement of Kumail from several aspects of his ethnic culture and religion reflect a similar change that can be observed in many young people in the developing world today, a sad but ever-growing phenomenon. But Kumail and Emily’s screenplay deals with more primal aspects of human emotions: love, acceptance, understanding, and a desire to change (or not) with the times. It’s these values that make The Big Sick so relatable to modern audiences, serving as a reminder that people in a progressive society shouldn’t fear being different, but at the same time understanding that generation gaps will exist and continue to exist for legitimate and respectable reasons. The message that ‘there are no good or bad people, only people with different perspectives and motivations’ is a common seasoning peppered throughout the film.
Leading the charge with this message is Kumail Nanjiani, who unsurprisingly does a tremendous job playing himself and reliving his experiences. Zoe Kazan is also excellent as Kumail’s wife, Emily, and the chemistry between the two was a major reason their relationship was so sweet and believable. Great supporting performances were also given by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s hardened mother and overly-gentle father respectively. The two were constantly the source of sincerity and endearment, particularly in their interactions with Kumail. They each give a strength to their character and their relationship that would have easily evolved into melodrama were these roles in the hands of lesser actors. One of the most important aspects of The Big Sick is its humour, which is present in spades. It’s not so much the writing, but the comic timing of the characters that really provide the major laughs in the film. And it’s here that Kumail and Ray Romano shine, both being the awkward, bumbling but charming men who are in situations that are more similar than meets the eye. And while the dramatic elements slightly edge out the rom-com aspect of the film in terms of impact, the comedy is what truly makes the heart of the film beat strongly.
As for flaws, certain side characters are undoubtedly better defined than others. In particular, Kumail’s comedian friends come off as incredibly shallow and one-dimensional, crossing the border to being annoying on more than one occasion. While I praised the actors for keeping the melodrama under control, there is a (probably fictional) dinner table scene towards the end of the film that unfortunately breaks the glass on this one, being totally unnecessary and coming off as slightly over exaggerated. A shame considering the organic and authentic nature of the film up to this point. Finally, while this is not a flaw, there isn’t much that is special about Michael Showalter’s direction, as the scene blocking, acting and overall narrative structure don’t stand out very much. The screenplay is definitely what brings the most ‘oomph’ to The Big Sick, but I don’t think anyone would be surprised that that is the case.
It would be unsurprising if the team behind The Big Sick start prepping an Oscar campaign in the writing categories. The film is certainly a worthy contender, not just for the well-written and mostly well-executed film, but for the many untold stories that the film represents. Kumail Nanjiani knocks it out of the park with a film that provides a voice for many people in similar situations, and the film’s inherent diversity is what more Hollywood films need to follow up on given their major influence on world media. Overall, the film is an important, successful rom-com/dramedy, and we can only look forward to greater successes in Kumail Nanjiani’s future.
Overall Score: 8.5/10