The Big Sick (2017)
dir. Michael Showalter
written by: Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon
starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
For a Judd Apatow production, The Big Sick was certainly more sedated than his usual fare (no pun intended). Written by Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V Gordon about their courtship across cultural boundaries and conscious planes, the comedy feels like it steps directly from the awkward circumstances of their dating, separation and reconnection. Nanjiani, a Pakistani immigrant, is under strict direction from his family that he is to marry a nice Pakistani Muslim woman. When he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) after his comedy show, they begin a tentative romance; her master’s program and his arranged marriage destination cause problems. Too bad they actually liked each other. Shortly after their breakup though, Emily winds up in the hospital, placed in a medically-induced coma while her doctors attempt to diagnose the source of her illness. Initial conflicts with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) lead to a growing appreciation for the commitment between Nanjiani and the family who are well aware of what happened between the couple.
Nanjiani, who co-wrote the comedy with his wife Gordon, proves the viability of non-white protagonists. His ability to balance the bullshit tossed at him, like being told to “go back to ISIS” by racist frat boys, and maintaining the natural awkwardness inherent in meeting the parents (especially when their daughter is out of commission), he shows that difference is valuable but maintains commonality in life experiences, regardless of origin or traditions. Playing himself as disappointing son–his family is unafraid to point this out–and struggling Millennial, he allows the self-deprecating humor for which he is famous to fall upon himself, dragging uncomfortable situations out at every encounter.
Ray Romano stumbles through in his very Ray way, but Holly Hunter is the North Carolina mother-of-the-girlfriend whom you DO NOT fuck with. Emily’s stern and razor-eyed mother, Hunter takes the heft of the emotional development, usually handled by the daughter character, while Emily is out of commission. At odds with her husband, unaccepting of mindless discrimination, and dead set on focusing on her daughter’s recovery, she’s wound and ready to pop. That volatility both humanizes her character and allows for the most broad comedic portrayal. Pure bliss in frantic mothering.
Michael Showalter’s film is not tidy, though what about this situation could be? This messy start to a marriage showcases the issues of others getting involved with the personal lives of others. Societal stipulations for the “proper relationship” that two (or more) consenting adults intend to enter is of limited concern of the outside world. The arranged marriages and secrets hidden on Kumail’s side of the story ache of antiquated beliefs. As an immigrant, his family moved to America for a better life. A better life usually involves new traditions, and freedom–America’s screaming bumper sticker of human rights–is a new experience for foreign born, expectant parents, even for children in their late twenties. The Big Sick is a story of persistence without the creepier elements of Southside with You. Connection is what matters in love, and Gordon and Nanjiani found it.