"Love isn't easy that's why they call it love"
"...I don't really get that"
"I know. I thought I could just start saying something and something smart would come out"
Shortly after their break up, a struggling comedian (Kumail Nanjiani) gets a call that his ex-girlfriend Emily (Zoe Kazan) has been admitted to the hospital and placed in a medically induced coma. The situation forces him to not only confront her parents but also his own feelings about their relationship, their love and his culture.
Romantic comedies are definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, that’s due mainly to the fact that a good one's pretty rare. For every When Harry Met Sally there’s 100 Forces of Nature’s. The key to a successful romantic story, comedy or otherwise, is believability in both the characters and their story so that we as an audience can connect with them. Without that what’s the point? The Big Sick is not only one of the most engaging and entertaining romantic comedies in years but it’s also one of the most believable, because it actually happened.
With The Big Sick real life husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have adapted the story of their romance for the big screen. But what makes their story so special? There’s the obvious answer of the cultural differences or personal issues but instead it’s an illness. The true story of how Emily contracted a mysterious illness and was put into a medical induced coma, forcing Kumail to come to terms with their relationship while also establishing one with her parents, is unlike anything you’d normally see in a romantic comedy. Instead of following the tired old tropes of the genre, this real life story uses the unique circumstance of Kumail and Emily’s life to illicit genuine emotion while presenting the audience with something wholly authentic and original.
What makes the film stand out as a romantic comedy is that it’s a romantic film where one of the participants is in a coma for a large part of the film, making it an almost one-sided romance. This is where the film works well as a character piece, it’s a story of having loved and lost and getting that chance at redemption and to love once again. The film also cleverly uses this as a way of branching to bigger issues rather just remaining a simple love story. Issues of racism, cultural understanding as well as the importance of family and heritage are brought to the forefront as director Michael Showalter masterfully navigating the tonal shifts the film undertakes.
Nanjiani has written himself a wonderful role, obviously drawing from his own personal experiences he inhabits the role perfectly, adding small nuisances to this performance that makes him truly endearing. He allows himself to be funny but never draw focus away from the narrative or his fellow actors and bears his soul openly in the films more dramatic moments. Zoe Kazan is perfectly cast as Emily bringing a sweetness and cleverness to a performance that is absolutely spot on (having listened to Emily for years on her and Kumail’s video game podcast, The Indoor Kids, she has nailed the portrayal). The real standout in the cast however is Ray Romano who delivers a performance that is quiet and measured, never leaning on his usual comic timing to win a scene he instead lives in the moments bringing a subdued realism to his performance that is only intensified when put opposite heavy hitter Holly Hunter.
The film isn’t flashy with how it presents the story to us which allows the characters and the performances to take the spotlight. The film is a tightrope act of joy and sadness that Showalter pulls off as if he’d been doing it for decades. He effortlessly shifts from the film's lighter moments to the dramatic, never making it jarring for the audience but instead only adding to the realism of the whole experience.
The Big Sick is that wonderful type of film that will make you laugh, make you cry and make you feel like you’ve actually been apart of a real love story. The braveness of Nanjiani and Gordon offering up their personal tale of romance is to be commended not just for the their willingness to share it with the world but for sharing a truly unique, original and humorous tale of burgeoning love. It’s one of the most entertaining and affecting romantic comedies in years that manages to elevate the genre and create something wonderful.
8.5 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan.