A rom-com with a difference – The Big Sick examines the blossoming of an interracial relationship and the subsequent cultural divisions that follow.
Director Michael Showalter’s (Hello, My Name is Doris) latest film follows the origins of a relationship between Grad student, Emily (Zoe Kazan) and second generation Pakistani comedian, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani).
Their introduction to one another is handled perfectly. The eager and excited exchanges they share provide an initial warmth to the characters that is pivotal in establishing investment in a romantic comedy. Rather than inaugurating numerous characters, Showalter addresses them and then focuses on elaborating the relationship between the two protagonists. The chemistry between the two leads is enthralling – they ask the questions on everyone’s mind during the early processes of a relationship, one example being the query as to how many relationships have began by showing potential partners a certain film. The films true success however, is in addressing these questions comedically and with playfulness, rather than as a mundanity of founding a dependency.
There is an abundance of laugh out loud moments to be enjoyed, and the commentary on living within a strictly religious family is whimsically observed. Some of the humour is rather dark and brave, an example being that, when he is asked by his girlfriends parents as to his stance on the 9/11 catastrophe, he jokingly claims that “it was a tragedy, I mean we lost nineteen of our best guys”. Needless to say Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon’s writing may divide audiences, but there is plenty of inclusive humour on display as well. In this respect, there is observable evidence of Judd Apatow’s role as a producer on the film. Some of the film has an Apatow feel to it, and with some of this particular style seeping in, the film intermittently falters in some of its its comedic aspirations and attempts.
Nanjiani’s tale of new romance sensibly takes a turn in its second act, deviating from becoming, simply, an American rom-com; instead it provides opportunity for Kumail to spend time with Emily’s parents, who are very well performed by Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) and Holly Hunter (The Piano). They are both welcome additions to the narrative and provide a lot of its progression and insight into marriage and relationships.
There may be some viewers who feel offended that the film employs Pakistani stereotypes, but the script is based on Nanjiani’s real life experience with his family, so there is arguably merit in the portrayal of what is solely Nanjiani’s family, not a generalised representation of all American-Pakistani families – although, it would be naive to say the mother and father are not caricatured for comedic effect – but after all, this is a comedy film.
The Big Sick is enjoyable, funny, and heartwarming, refusing to adhere to what many audiences will expect – it is one of the best comedies of the year so far.