The Big Sick (2017)
Dir: Michael Showalter
Mark Twain said that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, so then this is a stranger version of ‘While You Were Sleeping’ and probably a better one in some ways.
Aspiring stand-up comedian Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani) resists his mother’s efforts to arrange his marriage, especially once he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan). After the couple has a fight and breaks up, she ends up in a medically-induced coma and he has to interact with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) while still dealing with the disapproval of his own.
You can see why they decided to turn the tale of their romance into a screenplay. You can bet that when people asked them ‘so, how did you two meet and fall in love?’ their tale would no doubt have prompted ‘that sounds like a film’. While based on the true events there’s definitely some dramatic licence taken to help it work as a successful rom-com movie, though comedy is key to what happened anyway. It’s also a little more than your average rom-com, especially as the rom part of it is completely on hold while Emily is in a coma, at which point it has a shift in gear to become a little more thoughtful and take the chance to prove to us why Kumail is someone we should root for despite his failings that caused the couple to break up. It was probably a really cathartic and interesting film for the couple to write and work on together, it’s also enjoyable to watch and delightful to see the comparison with the real-life figures at the end.
Key to any film like this working is the chemistry and characterization of the romantic leads and here the main couple of Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are perfectly cast. It almost goes without saying that he is for obvious reasons but Kazan too is a solid actress who always brings something to her roles and this is no exception. The supporting cast are equally or even more fantastic, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, in particular, are brilliant as Emily’s parents, roles that have comedic moments but also a lot of depth and their own arcs. Also brilliant are all the actors playing the members of Kumail’s family, who get some of the funniest lines in the film while also hitting the perfect tone to deal with the deeper cultural themes.
What I don’t love is the Apatow influence on the film, he was a producer and it detrimentally shows. I think this could very easily have been a PG-13 family movie that would’ve been excellent for all the family and potentially even more successful at the box office if it weren’t for the strong language. This is down in large part to scenes backstage at the comedy club which I didn’t think add much to the film though there are a couple of scenes there that are key to the story and are very good. Mostly the things backstage feel like they fit better in a different film and would be more at home in something like ‘Funny People’ which funnily enough was directed by Apatow.
As it is in this form I did enjoy this film, I’ve seen it twice and felt it has a lot of honesty and affection at the heart of the writing which makes it one of the best examples of a rom-com in a very long time but can’t help feeling that those qualities are obscured a little by some of the other elements. I’d love to be able to recommend this to my parents, they love ‘While You Were Sleeping’ but there’s so much in the film that would put them off that I can’t which is a shame because it wouldn’t have taken removing anything intrinsically important to make this a little more family friendly.
‘The Big Sick’ has been nominated for one Academy Award for the original screenplay by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. While I don’t think it will win, it is nice to see a romantic comedy getting a nomination and this one in particular as it’s so interesting to learn that it’s the real story of a now-successful writer/actor.