Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Big Sick (2017)

7 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, I was trying to think of what was my favorite romantic comedy of the decade. It didn’t take too long to realize it was “The Big Sick.”

The script for “The Big Sick” was written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, based on the true-life experience of how they met and fell in love. Thanks to producer Judd Apatow, they were able to get the screenplay made into a film. (And the screenplay was nominated for an Oscar!)

This semi-autobiographical romcom stars Nanjiani as more-or-less a fictional version of himself, a Pakistani-American stand-up comedian whose strict, traditional family don’t want him to partake in the American Dream. That’s why when he meets a white grad student (Emily, played by Zoe Kazan) and starts up somewhat of a relationship with her as time passes, he keeps her a secret from his parents and vice versa. But when Emily finds out, she feels like he’s ashamed of her and breaks up with him.

The end? Of course not! (I can’t even issue a spoiler alert–the writing credits alone are a spoiler.)

Midway through the film, Kumail learns Emily has suffered a serious lung infection and needs to be immediately placed into a medically induced coma. Feeling guilty, he signs the permission form and calls her parents. Now that Emily’s being treated in comatose, Kumail has to deal with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who already know Kumail and Emily broke up. As they deal with Emily’s illness, the three grow closer and find common ground. In particular, Kumail learns more about relationships from being around this married couple who has been together through good times and bad. This causes him to want to patch things up with Emily when she wakes…if he can gently let his parents know how he feels.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. If there’s anything more important than a comedy that can make you laugh, it’s a comedy that can make you feel. There’s a lot to laugh at in “The Big Sick” (such as “positive heckling,” Holly Hunter’s mocking of a racist heckler, Ray Romano’s liberal guilt, Kumail’s one-man show, and the differences between good and bad standup comedians). But we also feel for the main characters and see the side characters as real people. Therefore, when something dramatic happens, like when it seems Emily may not make it through after the illness spreads throughout her body or when Kumail’s parents disown him after he finally tells the truth, it really means something for them. It also helps that Kumail and Emily are great together. (Though, I have to wonder how the real Emily herself felt about her husband reliving their meet-cute and honeymoon phase with an actress instead of her.)

Btw, Bo Burnham is in this film, playing one of Kumail’s comic friends. Not knowing anything about his standup, it was surprising watching this film again after watching “Eighth Grade,” seeing his opening credit, and being like, “Wait, that guy directed ‘Eighth Grade’? Whoa. Next, you’ll be telling me director Michael Showalter was in ‘Signs’…I need to watch ‘Wet Hot American Summer,’ don’t I?”

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