Review: The Big Sick

In this romantic comedy, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan play two lovebirds who fall in love after a chance meeting and subsequently not only have to navigate the usual obstacles associated with any new relationship, but also have to reconcile their cultural differences. This sounds like it could be painfully formulaic and saccharinely sweet, but The Big Sick is thankfully very down to earth, not least because the story is actually based on how male lead and co-writer Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily V. Gordon, who also happens to be the other part of the writing duo behind the film.

From the beginning, the jokes come flying thick and fast, and they not only manage to land the vast majority of the time, they also play a part in helping to flesh out the characters as each joke and quip is served with a delivery that is unique for that character, however subtle those differences in delivery may be. This subtlety is present in general, which gives the characters an unusual degree of depth for a comedy, just as it gives the film a heartfelt warmth that is often lacking in romantic comedies, as the genre is all too often preoccupied with supplying stereotypical caricatures for your assumed amusement rather than attempting to create an emotional connection between the characters and the viewer, which has the potential to make the humanity associated with humor that much more profoundly impactful.

Genre confines also dictate that a romantic comedy should follow a structure that goes from meet-cute to romance to conflict and then usually back to romance again. Thus, what really makes The Big Sick stand out is how its structure differs from more conventional romantic comedies by introducing certain circumstances in the second act, which result in Kumail having to spend time with Emily’s parents rather than Emily herself, thereby getting to know both Emily as well as himself in a much different way than both the character and the audience expects. Aside from Kumail’s character arc being explored this way, it is also a rather unique way to explore Emily’s character arc through how her parents interact with Kumail, as there are just as many obstacles to overcome in terms of his in-laws when Kumail and Emily’s relationship hits this particularly rough bump on the relationship road.

As for the acting performances, while Kazan and Nanjiani certainly have enough chemistry to pull off a naturally sweet tête-à-tête between the two, there is a warmth to Nanjiani’s performance in particular, which is no doubt rooted in the fact that this is a dramatic treatment of an important part of his own life story. In addition, Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher’s portrayal of his parents result in many awkwardly amusing moments, however, a healthy balance between comedy and drama is maintained throughout the film. This ensures that there is enough weight to their issues with Kumail’s life choices without it becoming too heavy-handed, just as the humor avoids feeling inappropriate. However, the portrayal of Emily’s parents is the parental pair that really stands out, as Holly Hunter is delightfully feisty in that way only she knows how to convey, and Ray Romano is a welcome reminder of just how big of a talent he is in terms of understated comedy.

With romantic comedies often being so predictable that many consider them either guilty pleasures or downright nauseating endurance tests, The Big Sick is a welcome cinematic treat that has the potential to engage and entertain beyond the usual target audience of the genre. However, this is not to say that the film is a flawless masterpiece, as the film does have slight pacing issues here and there, but the genuine warmth of The Big Sick ultimately makes it an unusually heartfelt addition to the genre.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

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