The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick

Ever since I heard about it, I’d been looking forward to seeing The Big Sick, and I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a funny and touching romantic comedy, which explores intercultural romance as well as the effect of unexpected illness on everyone involved.

The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Zoe Kazan (Love, Love, Love) and is based on a true story, with the script written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The movie builds on the early days of their non-traditional relationship and the impact on that relationship of his Muslim family’s expectation that he will have a traditional arranged marriage. The movie, to a certain extent, follows the typical romantic comedy formula, but then Emily falls ill with a mystery illness. The course of the story is altered by her being put into a medically-induced coma while doctors try to save her life and figure out what’s wrong with her.

I’m a big admirer of Zoe Kazan and her work, having discovered her on Netflix a few years ago. She wrote Ruby Sparks, which she starred in with long-time boyfriend Paul Dano, about a writer who writes his dream girl and makes her real, only to find that having absolute control over someone is not so great. She was also in The F Word (or What If) with Daniel Radcliffe and in In Your Eyes about a cross-country psychic connection. And she is quite fearless on Twitter and in other media in expressing her opinions.

I had a bit of trouble getting into The Big Sick at the beginning, not least because of the woman who insinuated herself next to me, despite there being plenty of alternate seats in the theatre. She decided I must want conversation; she laughed long and loudly in a high-pitched voice; and she gasped audibly when anything unexpected happened (she didn’t know Zoe’s character would be put into a coma?!?). Maybe I’m just anti-social, but I really wanted to get fully sunk into the movie!

The beginning is to me a bit reminiscent of the Seinfeld TV show, with the interaction between the young comics and the bits of stand-up comedy inserted into the flow. (I wasn’t really a Seinfeld fan.) But I was also really pleased that, unlike some of Judd Apatow’s other movies (Bridesmaids; Trainwreck) this movie wasn’t filthy — profanity and such, but not filthy. (Nothing wrong with a little filth now and then, but somehow those other movies make me feel that I must have an old-fashioned sense of humour.)

Once Zoe Kazan became a big part of the story, I was more into it. She and Kumail Nanjiani are really cute together and have great chemistry. They are funny, but they also play the emotional parts really well. Of course, very soon she has to play a comatose person (excellently by the way 😂), but we do get to see her again later on in the movie.

Some of the scenes that made me smile the most were the weekly family dinners where Nanjiani’s mother, played delightfully by Zenobia Shroff, tries to match him up with various young ladies. “I wonder who that can be?” and “Oh look who just dropped in!” at each dinner. The tension between what the family wants and what Nanjiani himself wants is made quite evident, without him being able to voice it in their presence.

When Emily is placed in a coma, her parents (played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) come to town. I’ve never been a Holly Hunter fan, but I have to say that she stole the show and was smart-mouthed and hilarious! Romano was great too, with his deadpan delivery. They are in a couple of the funniest scenes in the movie, which play on some peoples’ perceptions of Muslims. In one, the father innocently (and ignorantly) asks how Nanjiani feels about 9/11, and in another, the mother defends Nanjiani from a heckler making suggestions of terrorist connections. Doesn’t sound funny, I know, but trust me, it is perfectly done!

In addition to the comedy, the drama is well done too by all of the actors. In fact, there were two parts that actually brought tears to my eyes! The medical drama is handled well, although as this was not really a disease-focused movie, I was left wanting to know more about the diagnosis. (There is always Google, for people like me who are fascinated with medical diagnoses and want to find out more!)

I do have one complaint, which I suppose is due to editing. Several times, when Nanjiani is filmed from behind, it is completely obvious that his lips are saying something different than the dialogue we are hearing. Very distracting.

The movie wraps up nicely, ending in a satisfying way, and I left the theatre smiling. It’s nice to see an independent film doing well at the box office too. Overall The Big Sick is a film that I really recommend.

26 thoughts on “The Big Sick (2017)

  1. I did not know about the coma aspect of this movie. I’ve only seen shortened versions of the trailer on television and they left that bit out! the dinner table scenes remind me of when I was younger and was friends w/two sisters whose parents were originally from India. the differences in culture was often funny b/c the parents tried not to be pushy but they weren’t exactly subtle either 😀

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    • Oh! I hadn’t seen a trailer where they didn’t show the coma…. I guess that would be unexpected then! I figured I wasn’t giving any spoilers beyond the trailer (oops). With the parents in the movie, they obviously weren’t going for subtlety… they exaggerated the funniest aspects. Did you like the movie? (Or have you only seen the trailer?)

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  2. I was excited about this because I saw a clip on a late night TV show that was really funny. However, I have three South Asian female friends. One liked it okay, one shrugged and one hated it. The two who didn’t like it thought it was like everything they hate about Woody Allen movies (one more vehemently than the other). So I’m probably demoting it to “watch when it comes on TV.”

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    • Interesting. I was checking out the audience and there were probably only 5% South Asians … although the neighbourhood I went to is predominantly Caucasian. I was just recommending the movie to my closest South Asian friend, so I’ll have to see what she thinks.
      Woody Allen? I wonder what they thought was like his movies? I don’t like them either, but I can’t think how they would be similar.

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        • Hmm. Maybe, but I saw it more as someone wanting to make their own choices in North America, where arranged marriage is not the norm and people really do have the choice to love who they fall in love with (generally nowadays). Now I’m really interested to see what my friend thinks. She originally had an arranged marriage which ended in divorce. She is now with someone of her own choosing who is also South Asian. And she is very active in issues in the South Asian community. It’ll be interesting to hear her opinion.

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          • Incidentally, I’ve always seen the issue with arranged marriage is not the freedom to fall in love as one wishes (no one can control that) but rather the freedom to marry someone with whom one is in love.

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              • I have, I think, two friends who are in arranged marriages (ultra-orthodox Jews). Maybe I should say “acquaintances.” I wonder what they’d think about this, but I doubt they will see it.

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                • I suppose a lot of cultures and/or religions still have arranged marriages. I know people at work too who, while they won’t arrange marriages, are really hoping their kids end up with people from their own countries. Personally, my family is quite multicultural and my parents were very open to that.

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                  • My parents would have been open to anyone who is white and a baptized member in good standing of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. They might have considered waiving the first requirement as long as the second were met and the guy hadn’t been African American 🙂 Now, I think, my dad would really like me to be married and has said a few times that they were too rigid about certain expectations. But since I didn’t want to be married, I didn’t care that much about what they thought about any hypothetical husband.

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  4. I did see it today (in an attempt to escape from the news cycle and due to $5 Tuesday tickets). I liked all of it except the parade of young women through the dining room. I can see why a Pakistani woman hoping for or participating in the necessary contacts to have an arranged marriage might find those scenes eye-roll-worthy.

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    • I’m glad you liked it too. Yes, I suppose I can see that too, although I thought it was funny. It’s a fine line between funny and eye-roll-worthy when you’re exaggerating stereotypes.

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      • Well, it was certainly not the only stereotype being exaggerated in that film. I only thought the film was directly mean to the first woman, and to some extent to Mrs. Nanjiani (who was really trying hard to find suitable women — she knew her son was a bit of a nerd and she obviously tried to take that into account with the first choice). I think the criticism that the dichotomy between the possible success of an arranged marriage and Kumail’s unwillingness to accept that he could ever participate in one is resolved dissatisfyingly in Kumail’s favor is justified (e.g., as pointed out in Hadley Freeman’s review). Even though Kumail has parents and a brother happily living in arranged marriages, in line with Kumail’s viewpoint, we don’t really get a good sense of that in a film; he simply doesn’t credit what Naveed tells him, or isn’t interested, or doesn’t want to think about it further. And as people who aren’t used to thinking about marriages in those terms, we’re probably predisposed to agreeing with Kumail.

        However, I have known some Jewish men and women who go through parallel problems to him, who are under pressure to marry a Jew even though they are not having an arranged marriage, and however dissatisfying their justification of their position might be, that kind of emotional refusal or simple passive-aggressive blocking reflect reality (hence the popularity of the Woody Allen POV, I suppose). Once someone has decided that they aren’t going to limit their search for a mate to Jews (or that they are intentionally looking for a non-Jew), discussion becomes very difficult, often either emotional or evasive. I’ve observed it off and on. Not least b/c in that case conversion is possible, so a frequent compromise that is supposed to please everyone is that the non-Jew is supposed to convert. Granted s/he agrees, then the Jewish partner is often bothered by the fact that the conversion creates a greater commitment to Judaism in the non-Jewish partner than in the Jewish one, and often the parents still aren’t completely satisfied by the act. The Jew wanted the non-Jewish partner and is forced to accept a Jewish one, and the parents may not accept that the convert is “really” Jewish. At least Kumail has the advantage that you can’t convert to being Pakistani, so some things are more clear cut.

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        • Definitely, we’re not used to thinking about marriages as being arranged for us. I do know people who seem to be happy in arranged marriages. I think Kumail is for sure presenting his viewpoint that in North America today, there is vast choice that he certainly wanted to explore. So, it does seem that he didn’t really present a viewpoint that arranged marriage could work for him.
          As for converting, the issue probably wasn’t only being Pakistani or not but also being Muslim or not. So, I suppose conversion would be possible, but again would they be seen as “real” Muslims by his parents. The movie certainly gives food for thought, which I’m sure was part of the intent.

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          • Muslims are usually better about converts than Jews are (in my experience). And they only bring him Pakistani women to meet. I agree Islam is in there somewhere but I saw Pakistani family identity as the crux of the matter. I had the feeling that if he’d just marry a Pakistani or Pakistani American girl they’d have swept the Islam issue under the rug (forgive the metaphor).

            I think part of the problem, frankly, is that we’re only going to see this one film (mostly likely) treating this specific problem in US cinema. There’s been a willingness to explore the dilemmas of the second generation of immigrants in comedy (thinking of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” here), but I can imagine that people who so rarely see themselves on the big screen in cinemas might be more frustrated than people who regularly see themselves in that position.

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      • and, someone who’s the object of the stereotype that’s being ridiculed might see it differently than I would. I’m looking at it for two hours, that person lives with it.

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