Real-life husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s story of meeting and falling in love is anything but typical. Their co-written film, The Big Sick, chronicles the incredible journey of the coma that led to their marriage, and the extensive cultural differences that ultimately proved surmountable, despite the 1,400 years of tradition and terrible sickness standing in their way. Kumail plays himself as a small-time stand-up comic/Uber driver. His wife, who is played by Zoe Kazan, is the grad student taken by storm and ill-health. Although none of this sounds like an affable comedy, the intensely honest and down-to-earth script delivers both laughs and heartbreak in a one-two gut-punch of reality and fantasy.
The film’s exploration of cultural hurdles in modern romance is a goldmine of comedy, seeking to show how years of tradition can be respected, and yet still be open to scrutiny. They are poked fun at by the movie, which shows how a hopelessly awkward upbringing shaped Kumail, and contrasts it with the modern setting of dating outside of your cultural rules. His rebellion against his parent’s wishes, along with a deep love and appreciation for them, walks a beautiful line between eastern practices of unlimited esteem for elders and the general western attitude of independence and change. A peek at Kumail’s experiences with religion and expectations of arranged marriage bring together an honest picture of what it’s like to fight a two-front battle between the present and the past, both pulling and pushing you in different directions.
A cast of comedians who have already walked a similar path by rejecting the security of a “proper” job and venturing into the unknown territory of verbal artistry prove a great mirror to what life can look like to both the adventure-seekers and the ones hoping to protect them from harm. Bo Burnham and Ray Romano particularly stand out as pivotal characters for Kumail. They help him explore a shaky future and a very troubling present, and they are essential to building a fuller picture of his experience. Although he is the emotional center of the film, Kumail’s performance felt like it needed some support – which, luckily, it got in spades. Zoe Kazan’s intelligent and emotionally broad performance thrusts the couple’s story into gripping territory.
A film that truly grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the end, The Big Sick is an endlessly charming true story populated by equally powerful messages that would be hard not to both laugh and cry at. Kumail and Emily’s powerful script is a must-see.
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