The Big Sick

A chance encounter, which was preceded by some chance heckling, starts stand-up comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) out on the path to a relationship. Sadly, it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without some hurdles in the way and The Big Sick has more than its fair share of hurdles for the central pairing. Cultural clashes and hospitalisation ensues.

While on the surface of things The Big Sick is a pretty standard romantic comedy. There’s a seemingly reluctant central pairing who just happen to have great chemistry and who begin to warm to each other over time. There’s some added tensions from their families and of course there’s a series of obstacles to overcome. It’s got all of the standard elements but to me The Big Sick felt like anything but a standard romantic comedy.

One of the things that sets the film out from other rom-coms is there’s a real feeling of authenticity, which is in no small part thanks to the story. The central premise of The Big Sick is based on the real-life events behind Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s relationship and is in fact co-written by the pair. That does not mean it is in any way mundane, if anything it proves the old adage that truth is in stranger than fiction. In addition to the authentic and engaging central story the two leads have a really believable chemistry, although I suppose it’s fairly easy for Nanjiani to play himself. That being said he is an incredibly charismatic and likeable presence and he works brilliantly opposite Zoe Kazan’s Emily, who is an absolute delight and given she spends a large portion of her time in a hospital bed that’s quite impressive.

The story itself is by no means a by the numbers romantic comedy, yes there are the familiar beats but it is very much a film of two halves. The first half is your standard rom-com fair with the two leads getting to know each other and then their relationship slowly coming together. All of that changes when Emily is suddenly admitted to hospital and placed in a medically induced coma, forcing Kumail to get to know Emily’s parents Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter). There’s also some added tension from Kumail’s own family who are blissfully unaware that he is actually dating, as his mother invites over a never ending procession of women in the hope of finding him a good Muslim girl.

I think one of the problems that a lot of rom-coms can suffer from is that they’re not always that funny, or actually that romantic come to think of it. Fortunately, The Big Sick is consistently funny with some genuine laugh out loud moments. There’s a visual gag centred around unlocking a smartphone, which I thought was much funnier (and darker given the context) than it should have been. It’s a really smartly observed and written film that manages to pair moments of genuine hilarity with moments of real emotional heft. There are no real baddies either, there’s no one who is used solely for laughs and the film does its best to see things from everyone’s point of view. It would have been easy to portray Kumail’s parents as unreasonable but that’s not the case at all, they’re well-rounded three dimensional characters rather than lazy stereotypes. I did enjoy Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents and it was nice to see Everybody Loves Raymond doing something beyond his usual schtick. Although saying that they were perhaps the film’s weakest links, not because they weren’t well-written or acted but because they were so recognisable it almost took me out of the film a little bit.

I really enjoyed The Big Sick, it’s a smartly written and brilliantly acted comedy with a lot of heart. It was consistently funny without ever really resorting to cheap jokes or stereotypes, a genuinely clever movie. It’s not only one of my favourite films of the year but also one of my favourite romantic comedies that I have seen for a long time.

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