THE BIG SICK (2017): Review by Elyse Thaler

The Big Sick, written by real life husband and wife team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, is based on the true story of how “Kumail” (as himself) met and fell in love with “Emily” (Zoe Kazan) while performing stand-up in Chicago. They begin their love story, but secrets and Kumail’s obligation to his parents and their old-world traditions tear them apart.

Shortly after, Emily is hospitalized for reasons that baffle her doctors. When the situation becomes dire and they put Emily into an induced coma, Kumail fears he might never get the chance to ask for her forgiveness. (EBT: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Elyse Thaler (with two cents at the bottom from Managing Editor Brigid Presecky)

 “Kumail” (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani native whose family moved to America — specifically Chicago — to pursue the American dream and create more opportunity for Kumail and his brother “Naveed” (Adeel Akhtar). With his family’s sacrifices, it is expected that Kumail will take the same road as every other good Pakistani son by becoming either a doctor or a lawyer, plus marrying a Pakistani woman who has the parental stamp of approval.

However, the American dream means different things to different people, and for Kumail this dream looks different than the one his parents have planned for him. All he wants is to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, far from the expected profession of doctor or lawyer. So even he is surprised when, during a routine night of performing in a stand-up show, he finds himself drawn to the blonde, American woman who jokingly heckles him during one of his bits. Her name is “Emily” (Zoe Kazan), and she is a student working towards her Master’s in Psychology. Like Kumail, she is not necessarily looking for anything serious, but after they spend their first night together they quickly fall into a relationship.

Unfortunately, things become complicated once Emily discovers that Kumail has been keeping her a secret from his family (because his parents are actively trying to set him up with any woman who is Pakistani and has similar values). This discovery leads to a huge fight, they say terrible things to one another, and it ends with Zoe storming off and never wanting to see Kumail again.

That would have been the end to their story if Emily had not been hospitalized for a mysterious disease. Her hospitalization has the worst timing; all of Emily’s friends are busy with final exams, and no one is around to stay with her. She would have been completely on her own had one of her friends not called Kumail, imploring him to be there for Emily. While in the hospital, Emily’s condition goes from bad to worse, becoming so serious that she is induced into a coma and her parents (Ray Romano as “Terry” and Holly Hunter as “Beth”) are called in from out of town. Kumail is by her side the entire time, through awkward conversations with the parents he previously refused to meet, and the fear that Emily may never get well.

The Big Sick is one of those films that sneaks up on you with its perfection. You go into it expecting it to be humorous with a cast that includes Kumail Nanjiani and Ray Romano. Casting Holly Hunter as Emily’s mother, “Beth”, also adds a certain amount of clout that Judd Apatow (one of the producers) brings to his films. But what is unexpected about this summer hit is the amount of humanity the script brings to the story; there is at least one relatable theme within the film that any audience member, no matter his or her own personal background, will find. This relatable aspect of The Big Sick is what takes it from simply being a funny film with human moments to something that sticks with you long after you leave the theater.

One of the most touching and current themes that the film attempts to tackle is the idea of finding your own identity, and how that ties into being an American when America has not always been your home. In one scene, an exasperated Kumail asks his parents why they insist on keeping with Pakistani and Muslim tradition if the reason they immigrated was to give him and his brother a “normal” American life. Throughout the film Kumail struggles with this polarity between what he wants and what his parents want for him. The answer is, of course, that there is no easy or right answer.

How to forgive is another huge question that continues to pop up throughout the story. Every character, just like every human on this planet, has his or her own flaws. Watching these characters discover their imperfections, or to simply confess to what they have done wrong was, as a viewer, like holding up a mirror to my own soul. The characters’ honesty provides a catharsis rarely seen in comedy.

Another reason why Kumail is so likable in the story is because he never truly understands how great he is. He spends the entirety of the film feeling as though he is letting everyone around him down. He continually lets his parents down by not having an approved profession or an approved wife, he lets down his girlfriend who now might never wake up from her coma, he lets down Emily’s parents because they know how he lied to their daughter, and it is clear that there is a piece of his own self that he has been letting down. These self-deprecating thoughts are what makes it that much more gratifying to the audience when Kumail finally stands up for himself.

Reliving the painful moments that occurred in the beginning of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s relationship as they sat down to write the script probably made some old scars itch. But, their ups and downs have shaped a relevant romantic comedy that not only lets the audience smile and laugh, but also reflects all of our own insecurities and every person’s journey to find strength within. What the pair wrote is beautifully acted and powerfully told. The Big Sick will leave you craving love even if that love is not meant to be. After all, life is all about the experience, and without experience how will comedians come up with new material for their stand-up routines?

©Elyse Bunt Thaler  (07/1/17)  FF2 Media
Top Photo: Kumail and Emily exploring their new relationship.

Middle Photo: The real-life Kumail and Emily.

Bottom Photo: Kumail with Emily’s parents, anxiously getting news from one of her doctors.

Photo Credits: Sarah Shatz

Q: Does The Big Sick pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?


The film naturally centers on Kumail and his side of the story. Emily has a strong stance throughout the film but her involvement within each scene typically deals with her relationship with Kumail.

Managing Editor Brigid K. Presecky

Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is an all-too-accurate portrayal of ties that bind in a hospital waiting room. Their love story is retold for the movie screen with Zoe Kazan and Nanjiani in their respective leading roles, both naturally witty and believably “normal.” The story underneath the story, however, makes the Judd Apatow-produced comedy worth watching.

Ray Romano and Holly Hunter anchor the film as Emily’s terrified, protective and unperfectly perfect parents, never becoming caricatures or venturing into the mom and pop stereotypes. The based-on-a-true story is evident here, with Romano carrying around a notebook full of medical information, the parade of doctors coming in and out to inform the family of Emily’s ever-changing condition. The pain and seriousness of the hospital setting is lightened through Romano and Hunters’ performances, depicting a true love love story in and of itself.

Although the film could have been condensed, give or take 20 minutes, and Aidy Bryant’s talent was subdued to a generic supporting character, the deeper message outweighs its minor flaws. (BKP: 4.5/5)

Tags: FF2 Media

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