Love Is Illness (The Big Sick, 2017)
The Big Sick is a fictionalized account of the beginning of the relationship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, writer/producer Emily V. Gordon. Kumail plays himself while Zoe Kazan takes on the fictional version of Emily.
Kumail grew up in Pakistan and his family wants him to marry a nice young Muslim Pakistani woman. He is not really sure what he wants or even believes. But he humors his mothers attempts at introducing him to women, tossing their pictures into a cigar box. And when he meets Emily, they initially agree that there will be no relationship beyond their first night. It is clear Kumail would like to continue the relationship, only declaring he is not looking for a commitment after Emily states she does not have room for a relationship right now.
But they are terrible at not dating and their relationship grows. As they get closer, Emily wants to introduce him to her parents. When she discovers he has never told his parents about her, the relationship hits a huge roadblock. Here is the thing…Emily’s anger is totally justified. And yet, it is hard not to understand Kumail’s reasoning. He knows he risks losing his family over Emily. The film is very careful about this. The family is not portrayed as villains in this regard. And that is a pretty tricky feat when your family is “standing in the way of love”. But I felt for his parents, especially as they are shut out from a lot of Kumail’s life. But early on it is established that one of his cousins was shunned by the family.
So, after they break up, Kumail tries to get on with his life. But one night he gets a call from Emily’s roommate. Emily is in the hospital and nobody is able to stay with her. She is less than pleased to see him, but when she is put into a coma, Kumail finds himself being drawn deeper into her life.
In a standard rom com, Emily would wake up and be super touched and they run off together. The Big Sick does not do this. After all, when she went into her coma, she still was angry. At one point, Emily tells Kumail that it great he had this awaking…but she was unconscious that whole time.
The Big Sick straddles that line of emotional drama and comedy better than some. And there are scenes that ripped my heart out. Kumail gets a call right as he is about to take the stage…and bombs in a fiercely awkward way. He stumbles through his jokes before giving into sorrow and the sense of powerlessness in the situation. I can tell you this, knowing something terrible has happened with someone you love and being stuck in your job? It is mind numbing.
The scenes between Kumail, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano (as Emily’s parents) are very good. They all connect and grow. There is one scene, when Hunter and Romano have gone to watch Kumail’s standup (much to his chagrin). At this point, her mother still does not trust him. She resents how he hurt her daughter. But when a frat boy starts heckling Kumail (in a most racist fashion), you see a new perspective growing within Hunter. She is ferocious in this scene.
Kumail and Emily make for a good writing team here, finding both humor in their experiences as well as raw emotion.
Maybe the film just connected with me in a way that I find it way better than it is. But I found the film both fun and heart wrenching.