FILM REVIEW // The Big Sick

Published Jan. 4, 2018 at ZekeFilm.org.

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon Tell the Best Love Story of 2017

DIRECTOR: MICHAEL SHOWALTER/2017

THE BIG SICK (2017) Poster

Before you start this review, you know what would be lovely? Listening to the soundtrack for The Big Sick while you read. Hey, I’ll make it even easier for you—here’s it is on Spotify:

Michael Andrews’s plucky guitar and piano score is one joyful little ditty, no? Even if your world collapses and breaks up in front of you, nothing feels hopeless when you listen to it, which is why it pairs so well with Kumail and Emily’s love story.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan) should never have worked. They should have been a one-night stand, or at the most, the exes in stories they tell on stage and at parties. But something sticks and blooms into something sweet, which complicates Kumail’s relationship with his family. His parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) expect him to marry a Muslim Pakastani woman and threaten to cut him out of the family if he doesn’t. Then Emily goes into a coma. As he and her parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), help her fight a mysterious illness, Kumail and Emily’s little blossom wilts.

From L to R: Holly Hunter as "Beth," Ray Romano as "Terry" and Kumail Nanjiani as "Kumail" in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Nicole Rivelli.

Not-really-a-spoiler alert: Kumail and Emily’s (Kumaily? Uh, Email?) love springs up again. Nanjiani and the real Emily, Emily V. Gordon, marry and write their real-life relationship into a script called The Big Sick. Then in 2017, we fall in love with their love story—laughs, tears, flopped stand-up sets, and all.

We fall in love because The Big Sick knows what all of the best romantic comedies know: The best stories are never just about romance. This rom-com digs into art, religion, cultural values, and family, and it dances with the intersection of pain and humor.Zoe Kazan as "Emily" and Holly Hunter as "Beth" in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Nicole Rivelli.

Ever felt overwhelmed in a hospital? Then you know how awkward Kumail feels when forced into the same waiting room as Emily’s parents. You know Beth and Terry bicker because they don’t want to talk about their fears for their daughter. And since you’re not wrestling with your own grief, you know you can just sit back and laugh at their comical responses to stress.

As if this funny and endearing little story didn’t have enough going for it on the page, the cast makes it flourish. Nanjiani isn’t just a stand-up writing longer material for himself here—he’s a moving and unselfconscious actor. Romano isn’t relying on his stand-up laurels, either—the lovable schlub in Everybody Loves Raymond has developed a new loveable role we’ll hopefully see more clips of in awards season. Hunter is as wicked winsome as ever, and Kher and Shroff create Kumail’s father and mother as full characters, not caricatures. Maybe most importantly, Kazan never lets us forget her, even though Emily steps away for a portion the narrative.

Zoe Kazan as "Emily" and Kumail Nanjiani as "Kumail" in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Nicole Rivelli.

The Big Sick roots its story in reality, not heightened emotion, and it springs with sweetness, not cynicism. You may cry, but it’s not a weepie; you’ll laugh, but it’s not crass. (Well, at least in comparison to what you normally associate producer Judd Apatow with—I wouldn’t recommend watching with Nana.) Simply put, Email’s Kumaily’s love story is the best of 2017.