Contemporary Review / Review

The Big Sick

by Seamus Mulhern


It feels so good to see Kumail Nanjiani become a star. Not only is he currently delivering a hysterical performance on Silicon Valley, but he’s also providing the Internet with a smorgasbord of great podcasts. With The Big Sick, the true story of how he met Emily Gordon, his wife and podcast co-host, Nanjiani proves that he is capable of being a genuine movie star.

I could sit here and tell you that The Big Sick is a funny and charming romantic comedy, but it’s so much more than that. It’s one of the best films of the year. It’s a film that I could easily recommend to just about everyone and the new benchmark for romantic comedies.

Kumail Nanjiani plays, well, Kumail Nanjiani,a struggling Chicagoan comedian who meets Emily (Zoe Kazan), a divorced student. After a one-night stand which soon blossoms into something more, Kumail struggles to balance his new relationship with his devotion to his family, who are going through the process of arranging Kumail’s marriage. When Emily finds out about his family, she breaks up with him and, soon after, goes into a coma. Her parents (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) arrive to help and Kumail must decide, once and for all, what he truly wants.

The Big Sick is the third feature from Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer) and is a huge step up from his decent sophomore effort, Hello, My Name is Doris. Showalter’s direction is confident, swift, and, most importantly, consistent. The shots never attempt to stand out and, thus, they never distract from the story. The editing is also equally engaging. The sense of comedic timing in the editing is, at times, beautiful.

However, the true star of this film is the screenplay. Nanjiani wrote alongside Gordon and it shows. The script’s sincerity is almost too much to handle at points. Nanjiani and Gordon worked hard to maintain realism by including the not so glamorous elements of relationships. Grocery shopping, watching TV, and pooping are all on display here. All of the bases are covered. By the end of the film, you will believe Nanjiani and Kazan are a real couple.

Not only that, but the dialogue is some of the funniest I’ve heard all year and I would go as far to say that The Big Sick is one of the funniest films of the past decade. Nanjiani brings his all to the material and delivers a performance that is at times awkward, passionate, fearful, and remorseful. But, it also feels true. The supporting roles are equally excellent with Romano as a standout. His particular and iconic line delivery fits perfectly into the role of Emily’s dad, a generally unconfident man who’s trying as hard as he can to be the man everyone needs him to be. I look forward to championing his name come Oscar season. At the same time, this is one of the most tear-inducing films in recent memory. The film gracefully bounces between moments of sadness, joy, anger, and panic. With this film, Showalter, Nanjiani, and Gordon have delivered an orchestra of melancholic hilarity.

It’s not perfect, however. The third act does fall into a few trappings of the genre and, ultimately, could have been trimmed down by just a few minutes. Fortunately, those flaws do not matter. This is not just a romantic comedy. This is a film that will stand the test of time. This is a film that people will be talking about for years to come. It’s a work that allows you to think about your own experiences and what you would do in these situations. It’s not just great, it’s special.

The Big Sick will make you believe in love and, in the end, isn’t that what movies are all about?

4.5 out of 5 stars

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