The Big Sick: A big remedy for the romantic comedy genre  

Comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani (left) plays himself alongside Zoe Kazan (Emily).
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Score: 4 stars


In the typical rom-com, relationships tend to develop with input from both parties. However, in The Big Sick, this genre trope is turned on its head as the romance only really starts to blossom when one of the characters goes into a coma.

Based on a true story, the independent film is dinner-table banter at its finest, but it tugs at the heart strings too.

Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) lives a double life as he endures the tug-of-war between his strict Muslim Pakistani family and his American life as a stand-up comedian and Uber driver. To make matters more complicated, he has fallen for a non-Muslim girl, Emily (Zoe Kazan).

Added authenticity comes with the knowledge that Kumail and his wife, Emily Gordon, wrote the screenplay based on their own lives and romantic history.

The humour in The Big Sick is a breath of fresh air. Islam and its traditions are a prominent feature, but the film clearly differentiates between harmless identity-fuelled humour and racism.

 Kumail is not afraid to poke fun at his family’s religion, but when someone in the audience at one of his gigs makes racist remarks, the film condemns this behaviour — a vital  message for all viewers.  

Kumail’s relationship with Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter, left, and Ray Romano, right) develops in an unorthodox way.

However, the film is not without its weaknesses.

The romance begins from a one night stand between Kumail and Emily, and a lot of screen time is wasted on the two hesitating about their relationship, without giving time to establishing the basis for their infatuation with each other. The affair becomes a blur that is almost too fast to properly digest.

At the same time, their relationship appears genuine and one that a modern audience can connect with. For those who are not looking for a sappy romance, the movie celebrates the daily flavours of a raw love affair.

When a stream of events lead to a break-up, a critical illness for Emily, and Kumail’s banishment from his own family, Kumail’s endearingly blunt, funny dialogue helps to alleviate the tension.

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon based the film on their own lives.

With Emily in hospital, he finds himself entangled in a complicated net with her parents, played by comedian Ray Romano and the feisty Holly Hunter.  This fusion of characters ensures a hilarious but poignant take on an unfortunate event, as Kumail realises the depth of his feelings for Emily.   

The devotion of Emily’s parents towards her during her treatment is an honest and touching component; Hunter plays the agitated mother impeccably, all the while burying her own marriage problems.

On the other side, Kumail’s family organise countless dinners with prospective candidates for an arranged marriage. But, in the end, it becomes clear his parents are just worrying about his well-being.

Overall, The Big Sick is not only an unusual love story, it is about a search for identity as a migrant, and it’s a story that will resonate with many.