Mark McDermott

Rom com dram ‘The Big Sick’ is timely commentary on modern love [MOVIE REVIEW]

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by Kailee Andrews/


Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick. Courtesy of Sundance

There’s a scene in The Big Sick, when the lead character, Kumail, gets in an argument with his Pakistani Muslim immigrant family, at a diner. As things get heated he takes a moment to swivel his head around, repeatedly shouting to other customers, “It’s okay, we hate terrorists! We hate terrorists!”

So yeah, The Big Sick may just be too good for this world, too pure. A phrase that has become a Tumblr fallback for describing shapely cinnamon rolls and likable characters, but in the case, of this kind-hearted, uproarious romantic comedy, it’s all too apt. This rom-com-dram goes down like a hot toddy, leaving you warm and giggly yet at times, emotionally raw.

The Sundance hype for The Big Sick was enormous from two perspectives. On the one hand, there was the usual festival crowd-pleaser discovered and bought for a hefty sum (in this case, The Big Sick was scooped up by Amazon for $12 million). On the other hand, there’s the film’s context. In today’s climate, the story of a Pakistani-born comedian from a Muslim family falling for a white American grad student, plays with a heightened sweetness and urgency.  Like so many movies these days, The Big Sick will be received in a world that can feel jarringly different from the one in which it was produced. It’s impossible to describe how precious and joyous and much needed this film seemed at that moment sitting in the Sundance theater.

So clearly, The Big Sick is a film America needs. It offers a universally appealing, yet insightfully specific, look at finding the person with whom you belong, in a country you are trying to belong to, despite that country’s tenuous welcome. As such, it would be easy to simply discuss the joy and necessity of seeing a brown man as the romantic lead in a commercial American rom-com. And that is deeply wonderful. But of course, the power of the film comes not merely from its welcome focus on the Pakistani-American experience, but from the particular experiences of its lead characters, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) portrays himself in the film, which is an autobiographical chronicle of his relationship with his now-wife, Emily V. Gordon (Zoe Kazan). The couple scripted the film together, and it covers their meeting, dating, breakup, and the illness that placed Emily in a coma. Much of the film takes place with Emily unconscious and chances of survival wavering as Kumail becomes acquainted with her stressed and fierce parents (played pitch perfect by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). Full of both heaviness and light, the film has a lot of ground to cover, which explains its, unusual for a comedy, runtime of 2 hours. Despite the length and the generic elements of the film; a sudden illness, a forbidden connection and a meet the parents arc, the film never tires. It’s entirely absorbing, with a fully realized cast of characters, a lived-in world of black box theaters, homey Chicago apartments, and Pakistani parents, intent on having their son settle down with an appropriate Muslim girl.

I love this movie so dearly. I love that it gives us an intimate, open look at a love story that is both ordinary and extraordinarily eventful. I love that it has a scene where Kumail tries to test a knowing, wise-cracking Emily’s taste by insisting she watch some of his favorite B horror movies. As so many in society continue to fight for acceptance, these images are helpful, and this normalcy is everything.

The Big Sick is rated R for language including some sexual references. 119 minutes. Now playing at ArcLight Hollywood, The Landmark, and AMC Century City with additional cities to follow on July 14th. 


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