What can one expect from the otherwise typical graph of a meet-cute (and eventual romance) being abruptly halted by a grave illness? Certainly not anything like The Big Sick, which upends the romantic drama prototype on its head, boldly giving its audience laugh-out-loud comedy within its incredibly honest and heartfelt story.
And believe us when we say honesty is—quite literally—the best policy here. Nanjiani also doubles as a writer, collaborating with wife Emily Gordon to create a universe that is as authentic and engaging as it gets. No mean feat, this, considering that while the primary narrative arc tackles the romance and looming conflict with such precision, the film also successfully explores the struggles of living amidst cultural differences and Chicago’s stand-up scene.
If you’re worried about clichés seeping in, though, don’t sweat it. There aren’t any for miles ahead.
Nanjiani, unsurprisingly, deserves all the credit he can get here. Operating with an uncannily natural air, he mines deep within himself to bring back nuances you’d never suspect he’d ever have. Zoe Kazan (What If?) is real and lovely—and really lovely—in her performance of Nanjiani’s wife, Emily, and her chemistry with the actor-writer-comic is as beautiful and palpable as it is warm and funny. But one would think that she deserves more screen time.
The story isn’t just about Kumail and Emily, though, and the people who essay the many Nanjianis and Gordons respectively are pitch-perfect. Anupam Kher (Silver Linings Playbook) and Zenobia Shroff (Little Zizou) are quite the force of nature as Kumail’s typically South Asian parents.
Even its most discomforting scenes successfully engage viewers because of its overall burning authenticity.
Modeled after Kumail’s mother herself, Shroff in particular fulfills most of the beats of a Pakistani woman trying to conform her son to live the way of life she deems appropriate. Between dropping the eligible-single-Pakistani-woman in her hilariously feigned nonchalance and her embarrassment of his career as a standup comedian instead of a dooctor or an engineer, there is a lot of nuance to admire here. Their scenes with the protagonist have a fiery spark that a major chunk of the South Asian audience will genuinely relate to—it is one that they will be sure to find all too familiar.
The Big Sick’s best bits, however, are Kumail’s many interactions with Emily’s parents, played to perfection by Ray Romano (television’s Everybody Loves Raymond) and Holly Hunter (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). Emily’s father is caught between the want to be nice to Kumail, and his wife’s hatred toward the protagonist as a guy who broke her daughter’s heart. Hunter is unequivocally the best of the lot—her face-off and eventual realization of Nanjiani’s social background is impressively woven through her character arc.
With this in perspective, it does come as a slight disappointment when you realize the Nanjianis could have been given the due they deserve. Viewers can see what ties the Gordons form together as a family, but don’t have much on their Pakistani counterparts. This, however, is a minor gripe that one can easily brush off given how honest the proceedings are. Even its most discomforting scenes successfully engage viewers because of its overall burning authenticity.