I had the pleasure of experiencing The Big Sick at the Gulbenkian last week, and it is a breath of fresh air that stands out from this summer’s crowd of blockbuster stinkers. Based on the real life story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the film is a romantic comedy that encapsulates the first year of their relationship and the trials and tribulations they face. With a potentially unexpected runtime of 124 minutes, The Big Sick is a perfect example of how a well-paced film can transcend the perception of time. I didn’t even realise how long the film was until I looked it up online.
The plot unfolds in generic manner at first, but later, in the unlikeliest of scenarios and eight months into Emily And Kumail’s relationship, Emily (Zoe Kazan) falls into a medically induced coma. As a result, Kumail (playing himself) is forced to spend time with her parents (played brilliantly here by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and ponder his future with Emily. The strongest element of The Big Sick is undoubtedly the performances of its extremely likable cast. The chemistry between the actors in each scene is electric – especially so between Kazan and Nanjiani. The relationship between the two is the bedrock of the film; if we don’t buy into their affinity, the rest of the film is meaningless.
Emily and Kumail are perhaps the most endearing onscreen couple of 2017. Kazan portrays Emily with a bubbly energy that is elegantly counterbalanced by Nanjiani’s more stoic, straight-faced demeanour. They play out their roles with such delight; it’s almost impossible not to root for them. However, when Emily falls prey to the titular ‘big sick,’ Kumail is left to face her parents’ wrath. Surprisingly, Beth and Terry Gardner’s relationship is just as pivotal to the plot as that of Kumail and Emily. Hunter and Romano’s older and more mature characters provide a refreshing contrast to the more kinetic and vivacious younger couple. Their presence is a reminder to us that no matter a couple’s maturity, all possess their own demons that must be overcome in order to grow stronger together.
An aspect of The Big Sick that makes it so relevant to our time is its spotlight on immigrant families and the adversity of growing up in a foreign country. Kumail is an exemplary character, conflicted with the liberty afforded to him by his new country and his loyalty to his family, their religion, and their culture. As he so aptly puts it, “Do you know what they call arranged marriages in my country? Marriage.” Perhaps that’s why everyone in the film seems so real. It is not their perfections, but their flaws, that we relate to.
by Darren Chew