Released: 28th July 2017
Directed By: Michael Showalter
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan
Reviewed By: Hannah Woodhead
It’s hard to find a rom-com that’s truly original nowadays – Hollywood seems to churn them out every single week, but by and large, they’re predictable and forgettable and don’t bring anything new to the table. Luckily for all of us, The Big Sick does manage to do just that, perhaps because it’s based on a remarkable true story. Written by real-life couple Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanijani about their courtship in Chicago, the story concerns star-crossed lovers Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) and Kumail (…played by Kumail) who meet and fall in love, only to find culture and ill-health get in the way.
It’s not a rom-com in traditional terms – in fact, The Big Sick deals with a lot of heavy ideas, such as life-threatening illness and the pressure to conform in a religious family. It does so with remarkable wit and grace, avoiding sentimentality or slipping into cliché territory by being refreshingly honest and even ugly at times. Kumail, playing himself, isn’t afraid to show his flaws, and as the central character of the film, it’s important that he does so – the film feels more credible for it. Zoe Kazan is a delight as Emily, the ray of sunshine who falls ill with a mystery illness, but she spends most of the film in a hospital bed, so you connect with her character purely through the eyes of Kumail and her parents, Beth and Terry, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.
This isn’t necessarily a criticism, and certainly Hunter and Romano are delightful to watch, warm and wise and protective of their daughter, giving nuanced performances that show the human side of their characters – in one great scene, they go to watch Kumail’s stand-up comedy and Hunter ends up in an argument with a frat boy heckler. However, it’s hard to make a romantic comedy in which you only really hear one side of the story. There is an attempt to address this towards the end of the film, but it feels a little rushed. Even so, that doesn’t detract from the rest of the film. It’s a cast full of brilliant comedic talent, but there’s also a lot of love in the story.
As well as navigating the difficulties of dealing with love in the times of mystery illness, the film addresses religion and race – Kumail struggles to live up to the expectations of his family, and faces being cut out of the family if he refuses to obey their wishes. You really get a sense of the turmoil that affects many young people who come from households with strict religious beliefs, torn between what their family want and what they want.
It’s a charming, incredibly funny story, beautifully written and skilfully directed by Michael Showalter – a rom com for people who hate rom coms, but like stories about people.