Once again, I went to an Odeon Screen Unseen event. Of the ones I’ve been to so far, I’ve had a pretty good track record. Midnight Special was a pretty decent sci-fi film whilst Baby Driver was just a great bit of fun. This time though, we got something a lot more low key than the bombast of Midnight Special and Baby Driver, this time being The Big Sick. Now since the film first showed at Sundance, and earned rave reviews, I’ve been interested in it, with my interest growing the more stuff of Kumail Nanjiani’s I saw. Having watched the film, I have to agree with the reviews, this is a very charming and funny romantic comedy.The film tells a fictionalised version of the relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon (named Emily Gardener in the film), with Kumail meeting Emily after a stand up show he does and the two starting a relationship together. As the relationship grows, Kumail finds himself under more pressure due to his parents pushing him towards an arranged marriage. Eventually, Emily finds out about this and breaks up with Kumail but shortly after, Emily gets seriously ill and Kumail ends up being the only person able to make key decisions for her health in close enough proximity to her. Whilst Emily is in a medically induced coma, Kumail meets her parents, eventually bonding with them whilst they are waiting for Emily to be treated. Now the main thing that makes the film work is the sense of honesty in it. As it is based on the real relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, their script is able to include very subtle details that other relationships would forgo, such as difficulties when you need to go to the toilet when staying overnight with someone and films like Night of the Living Dead and The Abominable Dr Phibes playing in the background whilst Kumail and Emily have sex (with Dr Phibes also being Kumail’s, for lack of a better term, compatibility test for Emily). All of the ups and downs of the relationship between Kumail and Emily feel natural and this gives the film a great deal of its charm, along with its humour. This element of the film is also seen through acknowledging the Pakistani roots of Kumail, particularly the relationship between Kumail and his parents. Kumail’s parents expect him to pray five times a day and be accepting of an arranged marriage, whilst Kumail uses the time his parents think he’s praying to go on YouTube and doesn’t want an arranged marriage, prefering to have a relationship with someone he cares about, not someone his parents choose for him. This also gives the conflict in his relationship with Emily more weight as there is the risk of Kumail’s family disowning him if they find out about his relationship with Emily, this side of the film giving it a greater level of depth than other rom-coms.
The performances also help make The Big Sick work in terms of both comedy and charm. Playing a fictionalised version of himself, Kumail Nanjiani is excellent. He brings a lot of great deadpan humour to the role, mainly in relation to his Pakistani background and the Islamophobia that he experiences, which also gives his performance a more tragic edge. He also does a good job of the balancing act between not wanting to be disowned by his family and wanting to continue his relationship with Emily. This part of the film is helped by the brilliant chemistry shared by Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan as Emily. Kazan brings a lot of charm to Emily, making her a very compelling character with some secrets of her own and she has some great scenes at the end of the film, although for most of the film she is in a medically induced coma. As Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano make a solid impression. Hunter makes Beth a very imposing character, someone who values her daughter’s safety above anything else, it’s hard to say exactly what makes Hunter’s performance so good without spoiling all the jokes that she’s involved with. Ray Romano meanwhile gives a pretty complex performance as Terry, having good chemistry with Nanjiani as the relationship between the two grows whilst also showing the difficulties he’s having in his life. There are also solid performances from Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff as Kumail’s parents, showing how they still value their Pakistani heritage whilst living in America, along with the difficulties that Pakistani people of their age face, whilst also showing how Kumail does not fit into their culture, particularly in relation to the arranged marriage side of the story. We also get good work from Adeel Akhtar (one of my favourite underrated actors right now, if you get the chance check out his brilliant work in Utopia), Bo Burmna, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler who add to the world of the film.
Overall, The Big Sick is a charming, thoughtful, funny romantic comedy. With Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon writing the script based on their own life, there’s a level of honesty in this film that very few romantic comedies have, along with a sense of introspection that gives the film a great degree of weight. However, the film doesn’t let up on the humour, with there being a great mix of humour within the more serious parts of the film, with the performances from Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano helping with the tonal balance. This is one of the most thoughtful, charming rom-coms released in the past few years.
My Rating: 5/5