The Big Sick

If there is a movie genre that could use an extreme makeover these days, it’s the romantic comedy. Sure, the formula of strangers meet, strangers fall in love, strangers grow apart, and strangers get back together is a tried-and-true one. Throw in a few one-liners, a couple of gags, and a happy ending, and you have a mediocre, albeit watchable, date night at home.

Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon co-wrote this new rom-com, based on the eventful true story of their relationship.

Thankfully, The Big Sick just elevated the genre. Pakistani-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon cowrote this new rom-com, based on the eventful true story of their relationship. The Big Sick brings freshness to a genre that struggles with originality.

Nanjiani plays himself, a struggling stand-up comic who meets Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) when she heckles him at one of his shows. The two decide they don’t want to date seriously, but keep breaking their promise not to see each other, eventually succumbing to a relationship with each other. Kumail keeps the romance secret from his parents, who are intent on keeping a Pakistani tradition of arranged marriages. Whenever Kumail attends dinner at his parents’ house, a different Pakistani bachelorette suddenly shows up unannounced—all a part of his mother’s plan to marry off her youngest son.

When Emily learns that Kumail has kept their relationship under wraps, the two break up. Shortly thereafter, Emily becomes ill and is hospitalized. After the doctors medically induce a coma, Kumail calls Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), to come the hospital. Kumail, against Beth’s wishes, hangs out at the hospital, realizing he loves Emily and doesn’t want to leave her.

The movie wisely relies on unfolding stories of Kumail’s relationship with all of the characters around him, instead of inserting gags. Nanjiani’s awkward, comedic delivery serves the story well as he tries to win Emily’s heart, his parents’ unconditional love, and Beth and Terry’s trust. Comas are hardly conducive to comedy gold, but a subtle, comedic chaser follows almost every dramatic moment in the movie. The dynamic between Nanjiani and all of the characters is strong, especially with Romano and Hunter, who are both excellent. As Nanjiani’s relationships grow, the movie never seems contrived or over-the-top, like other romantic comedies of recent memory.

Speaking of which, Judd Apatow served as one of the movie’s producers. Apatow wrote and directed 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, produced Bridesmaids, and directed Trainwreck. While all of those movies proved entertaining, they all relied on big gags and sophomoric humor. While it carries the Apatow brand, The Big Sick stands as an understated antithesis of previous Apatow productions. Nanjiani and Gordon write a funny, slow-burning story. While the movie is consistently witty, it goes more for a sustained giggle instead of hitting the audience with laugh-out-loud moments.

Having a Pakistani leading man also feels fresh. While Kumail is busy trying to win over Beth and Terry, Nanjiani is successfully accomplishing the same thing with moviegoers. He’s an underdog: an Islamic man looking for acceptance in post-9/11 America. Whether he’s apologizing to his parents, looking at Emily’s high school photos with Beth, or having awkward conversations with Terry about Islam, Kumail is always bumbling, and always likable. He makes mistakes, but how he tries to counter those mistakes makes him someone worth rooting for.

Not only is The Big Sick a standout in its genre, but it also offers a welcome break from summer blockbuster season. In the midst of big-name, box office draws with chase scenes and explosions, Nanjiani and Gordon’s story counters with clever substance.


3.5/4 stars. Rated R for some language, but that seems harsh given that violent movies like Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and Dunkirk are all PG-13.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.