The Big Sick

big_sickSTARS5I adore romantic comedies.  Good ones, that is. The genre gets such a bad rap nowadays, but when they’re good, they can be transcendent. They capture that most sublime of all human emotions: love. It’s when we, as people are at our most vulnerable. It Happened One Night (1934), Roman Holiday (1953), When Harry Met Sally (1989), The Princess Bride (1987), Notting Hill (1999), 500 Days of Summer (2009): these are my very favorites. We’re talking some of the best movies ever made. Let’s add another title to that growing list of rom-coms: The Big Sick.

You’ve heard the old adage before: Write what you know. Screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon really took that to heart. They’ve been a married couple for 10 years now. The Big Sick is the story of their lives fully realized in cinematic form. Stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani plays a mildly fictionalized version of himself. Actress Zoe Kazan (Meek’s Cutoff, Ruby Sparks) plays Emily. Kumail is a Chicago-based stand-up comic who first meets Emily, a grad student, at one of his shows. She is in the audience and her heckling, which is more flirtatious in nature, piques his interest. The two chat after the show and you can practically see the physical sparks ignite in the air. What begins as a one-night stand develops into a full blown relationship with deep romantic feelings. It gets the early stages of a courtship perfectly and it’s a giddy experience.

Now if that set-up was all there was to The Big Sick, it would still be a profound paean to love. But there’s a unique point of view that makes this drama unlike any romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. Kumail and his parents are from Pakistan. They have emigrated to the U.S and now live here. Kumail is very close to his folks and he visits them regularly. Mom and Dad are conventionally religious Muslims. They believe in arranged marriage. The seemingly endless parade of women that just happen to “drop by” their home is an amusing facade. We know mom is behind all this, hoping that one of them might be a match. Yet there is a very real cultural tradition at play here and it’s presented with sensitivity and compassion. However, Kumail wants no part of that practice. He wants to find his own true love, although he is loath to bring up the subject.  He is afraid to express his actual feelings to them. In fact, his parents know nothing of his association with Emily. Emily’s realization of this fact is a heartbreaking moment that causes a serious rift.

If it feels as though I have described the entire plot, rest assured, I haven’t even come close. The story, as are the ups and downs of any relationship, is a series of setbacks. I still have yet to even detail the biggest one of all. I won’t though. I will only say that it gives us the opportunity to meet Emily’s parents played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Simply put, they are wonderful. They express grief, pathos, and humor in a way that is absolutely masterful. Their performances blend the gravest of circumstances with a tragicomedy touch. Although they are merely supporting parts, we get a full and rich understanding of their affinity as well. Their bond feels as breathtakingly real and nuanced as any I’ve ever seen put up on the screen. I rarely talk Oscars this early in the year, but both actors are worthy of a nomination. They are so genuine in their portrayals.

The Big Sick embraces all the ideals of what makes the classic romances succeed. It’s a saga about when two people who are truly meant for each other, fall in love. It sounds simple to do but few movies detail the experience with this much soul and authenticity.  What can I say?  Actors Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani captivated my heart. I was emotionally invested in their relationship. The Big Sick is humanity with all its imperfections and idiosyncrasies on full display. The screenplay mines humor in the clash of cultures but it also extracts the awkwardness of relatives. The idea that “You don’t just marry a person; you marry into a family” is a concept that frequently comes up. It’s not going to be smooth. Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel produce. Michael Showalter directs. Individually, these people have done a lot of great work. Yet this combination of talent utilizing a script from Nanjiani and Gordon, have produced a masterpiece. It’s a flawless testament to a couple in love. The pièce de résistance is that it’s actually true.

07-02-17

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19 Responses to “The Big Sick”

  1. Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

    Agree wholeheartedly

    • The last time we agreed on the best film of the year it happened with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m being presumptuous, but could it happen again? It’s too early to say, but as far as I’m concerned, this is the leading contender.

      • Eric Robert Wilkinson Says:

        I’ve been thinking about my best of list and having forgone my best of the first 6 months at least hope to have a proper list this year… But it may surprise you… Also feel I’ve seen more very good than flat out amazing stuff

  2. I know ratings are somewhat superficial, but I wasn’t expecting a perfect score. I just gotta check this out. Hoping to do so Friday. War for the Planet of the Apes is my #1 priority this week.

    • It tops everything I’ve seen this year. I’ve seen some very good movies too. It’s just that this was so original and so emotionally pure that I had to go with 5 stars. First movie this year to get that rating.

  3. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I also gave it my highest score. Amazing film. So funny. Such heart. It all worked. I agree with you about romantic comedies and this is how you do it right. No cheap gimmicks or lame contrivance. Just 2 people, love and life getting in the way 😊

    • So happy you went and saw it. I’ve been telling everyone in my everyday life about this film. This is kind of like my version of a Your Name – meaning that little film I champion to everyone. I’m glad your experience was so positive. I’m hoping this film blows up in a big way now that it’s finally getting a wide release. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

  4. smilingldsgirl Says:

    I hope so too. I will champion it also! 😊

  5. Man, this sounds really great. Superb writing Mark.

  6. Pretty much utterly enamored throughout. Hits all levels, very funny, yet very moving as well.

  7. This is also my 1st, 5 star movie. So funny, so much heart. I loved it. When it ended, I just gasped with emotion. I wanted more! I really hope it gets the recognition it deserves, come Oscar time.

  8. I also adore romantic comedies (when done right of course). I haven’t seen all of your favorites, but I do enjoy the ones in your list that I have, including The Big Sick. The movie is very funny, and incredibly sweet. It’s even better upon second viewing. I love Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Hunter is especially great. What a firecracker When I vote in the BOFCA year-end awards, I anticipate her making it onto my ballot. Kazan and Nanjiani are fantastic too. They have excellent chemistry, and they just seems so natural around each other. My only real complaint about the movie is that it’s a tad too long. That said, I still liked where they chose to leave things. Side note, not sure if you saw, but I interviewed Kumail Nanjiani about the movie back in June. Did you read my piece?

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