Most people probably know Kumail Nanjiani best as Dinesh from HBO’s hit sitcom Silicon Valley but the Pakistani actor is proving himself to be a comedic juggernaut. This weekend saw the nationwide release of The Big Sick, starring Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano, directed by Michael Showalter. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is the hilarious and heartwarming true story of how Kumail and Emily first met.
The movie begins in Chicago where Nanjiani, a stand-up comedian trying to make a name for himself, is performing when he gets distracted by Emily (Kazan) in the crowd. After the show they strike up a conversation at the bar before going back to Kumail’s place. After a brief period of insisting they “aren’t dating right now” the two of course end up dating. About five months into their relationship Emily finds out that she has no future with Kumail because of his cultural traditions. Not only would his family disown him for marrying a non-Pakistani girl, but the entire time he was dating Emily he was also meeting women that his parents were trying to arrange a marriage with. This revelation leads to the couple calling it quits.
Not long after the break-up Kumail gets a call: Emily is extremely sick and is in the hospital. After arriving Kumail is told that Emily needs to be placed in a medically-induced coma so that they can try to figure out what’s wrong with her. Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (Hunter and Romano) arrive the next day and spend the next several weeks bonding with Kumail, who insists on being there for Emily despite the break-up.
After weeks in a coma, during which Kumail bombs a huge audition after being disowned for dating a white woman, Emily finally wakes up and almost immediately tells Kumail she doesn’t want him around. After a couple of failed attempts to get her back he decides to move to New York City to pursue comedy, only to once again notice Emily attending one of his shows, clearly there to see him and take him back.
The Big Sick is one of the most refreshing romantic comedies I’ve seen in a long time. Nanjiani and Kazan have perfect comedic timing, and their on-screen chemistry makes the movie much more interesting and believable. Romantic comedies are often plagued with one-dimensional, unrealistically pretty white people. Thankfully, The Big Sick doesn’t have this issue. Nanjiani and Gordon’s writing gives us realistic, relatable characters with actual depth and dynamic personalities.
Aside from this, I must say it’s nice seeing a movie starring a Middle Eastern and Caucasian interracial couple, especially with the minority’s character being more complex than just “He’s Pakistani”. All of this is of course aided by the fact that the duo are writing about themselves and their own experiences, but that shouldn’t take away from the praise that The Big Sick‘s writing deserves.
Two of the most pleasant surprises came from Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Both actors turned in heartfelt and genuine performances; Hunter often stole the scene when she was on screen and Romano was actually kind of funny for once, so that was nice. Other supporting cast members Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham provided some much needed comedy relief during many of the more high-tension scenes.
It should be said that while The Big Sick deserves the praise it has received, it is not without flaws. As good as much of the dialogue and story were, the pacing of the film left much to be desired. At times the film seemed to be switching between rushing through scenes and dragging on during others. The middle of the movie felt especially slow and drawn out; there were areas of the film where it felt less like a continued story and more like a series of individual scenes.
Another issue I found with the film was its portrayal of Pakistani women and relationships. While it may not be particularly overt, or intentional, the film does have a tendency to depict these women as desperate, forgettable, and borderline dim-witted. In its damnation of the tradition of arranged marriage, it unintentionally painted these women as largely undesirable. There’s nothing wrong with depicting cross-cultural relationships, but it shouldn’t do so by denigrating the women from one of them. As groundbreaking as it is to have a Pakistani man as the lead in The Big Sick, the film still falls short in other areas.
Despite these short-comings, The Big Sick is hands-down one of the best movies of 2017. Nanjiani and Gordon’s story, and film, is a hysterical and heartwarming story of love and commentary on modern day cross-cultural relationships. Do yourself a favor and go see it, and let Hollywood know that we need more Kumail Nanjiani in our lives.
Final Score: 9/10
What did you think of The Big Sick? Does it live up to the hype, or is just another lame romantic dramedy? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @DylanNoPants.