TV & Movies

"The Big Sick Isn't Perfect But It's the Best Damn Romcom I've Ever Seen"

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's autobiographical romcom is truly the best I've ever seen. And I've done the freakin' legwork

The Big Sick Review: Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan play the main characters.

(Photo: Elevation Pictures)

The Big Sick isn’t a perfect movie. It’s been celebrated for showing more diverse points of view and cultures than your average big budget romcom but is by no means representative of all people and experiences. And despite succeeding in not perpetuating a lot of commonly-used movie tropes, a few inevitably sneak in (ahem, like that tacked-on too-perfect ending). But The Big Sick, comedian and writer Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon’s autobiographical romantic comedy—in theatres everywhere today—is truly the best romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. And I’ve done the freakin’ legwork.

Ask me how many times I’ve seen The Notebook, I dare you. Is whether I watch The Proposal each and every time it’s on TV even a question? And if you really want to laugh at me, try tracking down Playing By Heart, the 1998 stinker starring Angelina Jolie and a blue-haired Ryan Philippe that I would rent ON VHS from the local video store approximately weekly. Some of my favourite TV and movie love stories are the ones that lean more heavily towards the “com” than the “rom” (Michael Scott and Holly Flax’s engagement scene on The Office will go down in history as having caused me to weep the most of any romantic on-screen moment ever). So yes, I’m a romantic comedy junkie with years of experience and a penchant for even the worst the genre has to offer, but I also know a truly special movie when I see one. The Big Sick is one of them.

(Photo: Elevation Pictures)

I went into the movie more or less blind, purposely avoiding reading about the film because I wanted to have an authentically unbiased reaction. So I didn’t read the countless rave reviews. Or the criticisms from people who don’t want to see one more brown man date a white woman. I knew little more than this was a movie written by the couple about their real life and real love. And so I sat in the theatre, alone but surrounded by strangers, and felt each moment without expectations getting in the way, clutching my chest and roaring with laughter with my comrades-in-romcom at every gut punch and tearjerker.

For the uninitiated, the movie follows Kumail (played by, duh, Nanjiani), a Pakistani-American Uber driver by day and stand-up comic by night, and Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young, divorced white woman pursuing her Masters degree in psychology, as they fall in love when they least expect it, break up messily when Emily discovers his family doesn’t know about her and are jolted back together when she suffers a sudden health crisis. Roughly 50 percent of the movie takes place in the hospital as Kumail navigates how to deal with Emily’s parents, played to utter perfection by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the latter of whom has no love for Kumail since he recently broke Emily’s heart. But she eventually thaws as they endure Emily’s mysterious illness and brushes with death together, all the while Kumail struggling with being unable to tell his family Emily even exists—his traditional parents, played by veteran Bollywood actor Anupam Kher (his 500th acting credit, NBD) and Zenobia Shroff, expect him to marry a Pakistani woman.

(Photo: Elevation Pictures)

(Photo: Elevation Pictures)

So, sure this is a movie about love, but it’s also about the complexity of all families, coping with illness, facing mortality, navigating intercultural relationships, understanding your relationship with religion, dealing with heartbreak and, finally, figuring out forgiveness. There are endless moments in those two hours with which a person could relate and Kumail himself, fresh off a whirlwind promotional tour, recently tweeted about how peoples’ reactions to the film—all different kinds of people saying they saw a reflection of themselves on screen for the first time—had shaken him.

In my humble opinion, where this movie succeeds is in the things that don’t happen rather than those that do. The almost-happy endings that never quite come together. Like when Kumail gets an icy reception from Emily’s mom the first time they meet at the hospital instead of the warmth he craves. And when Emily comes out of a coma and rejects Kumail’s offer to reconcile. Or when his heartbroken mother and father see him off as he leaves Chicago for New York City, only to clarify that while he’s still disowned, they wanted to make sure he got there safely.

It is in those moments that The Big Sick shows its balls—the courage to not pander to what the audience wants (A hug between mother and son! A hospital bedside proposal!). It’s also likely why, despite going into the theatre knowing the couple does end up together, the final scene felt a bit canned. But make no mistake about it—that doesn’t mean I didn’t tear up and hold my hands to my chest whilst watching it. What can I say? I love a good romcom.

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