THE BIG SICK is a film that perfectly captures a moment in time. It’s a modern day love story, complete with casual dating, Uber rides, and weird roommates. There’s a real genuine feeling that permeates THE BIG SICK, a kind of fleeting hope that floats right at the edge of the screen. It’s a film that showcases love, but also the heartache and racism and aspirations that are so intertwined in society today.
THE BIG SICK is the love story of Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is an aspiring comic, and he meets Emily after she heckles him at one of his standup shows. The two then have a whirlwind romance, and are ultimately forced to come to grips with the fact that Kumail’s Pakistani family will never accept Emily. Right after the two break up, Emily is hospitalized for an illness and falls into a coma. Emily’s parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), arrive from out-of-town to care for her and find, much to their dismay, that Kumail plans to help them care for Emily.
The only thing crazier than the plot of THE BIG SICK is the fact that this film is based on a true story. Although some parts have been updated for dramatic purposes, the overall plot of THE BIG SICK is the story of how Kumail Nanjiani fell in love with his wife while she was in a coma. Even without the “true story” moniker, the film feels real – there’s nothing that requires suspension of disbelief. Kumail’s aspirations feel incredibly realistic, as do the relationships that the characters foster throughout the film. Kumail’s friends (played by Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant) add a wonderful levity to the film as friends that ultimately care more about their own success than anything Kumail goes through – but yet still are supportive of Kumail in their own way.
Kumail is Pakistani, and while he has integrated into American culture with ease, his family is much more traditional. They spend the entirety of the film attempting to set him up on blind dates, believing strongly in the culture of arranged marriages that was so prevalent in Pakistan. Kumail abhors how has family tries to set him up with Pakistani women, yet he tolerates it because he doesn’t want to rock the boat. He would rather take those small slices of miserable moments to avoid having to have an epic confrontation about what he wants in life. It’s something that everyone can relate to. Kumail is beyond frightened that once his family finds out who he really is, and what he really wants, he will be disowned. That he will be alone, without the support of his family or culture.
In contrast, Emily’s parents are much more of a contemporary American family. They bicker, they are loud, and they are judgmental. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are excellent in their roles, portraying their characters are deeply wounded people. They struggle with the weight of what is happening to their daughter, and they struggle with how to handle Kumail’s continued presence in their life as they try to navigate the intricacies of hospital bureaucracy. As Emily’s parents bond with Kumail, there is a real sense that these characters have taken an emotional journey together and forged an unbreakable bond. It’s deeply human.
THE BIG SICK doesn’t have a big punchline, and it’s not a laugh-a-minute. It doesn’t have to be. It’s a sweet film, and the story it tells is both beautiful and personal. THE BIG SICK is a mirror into our world; a love letter to the frailties of humanity and the impossible choices we make for the possibility of love.