‘The Big Sick’: The Victorian Values Review

This may come a shock, but I haven’t actually started reviewing every single movie I see. I go the cinema quite a bit, particularly at this time of year when lots of the big US summer movies are coming out. But when I went to see Spider-Man: Homecoming and Baby Driver in one day (the official hashtag for this event was, of course, #ManBaby), I didn’t feel the need to weigh in. When movies are as hyped as they are, the mainstream and social media coverage can be pretty overwhelming. You’ve probably decided months in advance if you’re interested in seeing them, and unless the early reviews are dire, you’ll probably stick with that plan. What I’d prefer to do with reviews is to see if I can encourage people to go see films that get less attention. That often ends up being movies that are ‘female-focused’ – like a period drama (My Cousin Rachel) or a romantic comedy, in the case of a The Big Sick. It’s a pretty straightforward set-up – boy meets girl, boy and girl are torn apart by cultural differences, girl gets sick and ends up in medically-induced coma. You know. The usual stuff.

In a fictional film, when one of the lead characters is in a coma, part of the tension should be whether she will recover and our leads will get (back) together. But because the story is based on the real-life tale of couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, reality sort of ends up as a spoiler. Due to her appearances on the promotional trail (and the retelling of their story over the years in places like Dan Harmon’s podcast), we know Emily’s okay and they’re still together. But the genre of the film works in their favour here. It’s a rom com. We know they’ll end up together in the end, because that’s what happens in the end of a rom com. All we have to do is enjoy the journey.
Somewhere between Kumail’s 65 IMDB acting credits, you’ve seen him in something. For example, I have most recently seem him in the dire 2010 Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel vehicle Life as We Know It, because sometimes I truly should not be left alone Netflix. But it isn’t until you see him play himself that you realise how consistent his deadpan characteristics are. It’s a fun script and a real star vehicle for Kumail – it can be hard to make the deadpan style charming, but the character of Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) softens him to a great extent.bigsick

One of the main settings of the film is the Chicago comedy club that Kumail gigs at, which helps to maintain the ‘com’ tone when things turn serious. This is not only from the snippets of stand-up routines, but also from the backstage banter between Kumail and the characters played by Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and Kurt Braunohler (all accomplished real-world comics). If you’ve seen any other movie that producer Judd Apatow has had a hand in, you’ll have an idea of the humour in their interactions.
The real opportunity for the dramatic chops to come out is when the families come in to the picture. When Emily’s parents meet Kumail they’re immediately hostile – Emily had told them about their reasons for breaking up. We can see through their relationship to their daughter, and to each other, why Emily found it so hard to understand why Kumail had not told his parents about her, and why this was so hurtful. It’s important to have the right actors in the role of Emily’s parents, as we watch them slowly warm to him while going through their own struggles. I don’t need to say anything new about Holly Hunter (apart from, maybe, I want her to be my Mum?), but Ray Romano. Man. I cannot explain how begrudgingly I give respect to the star of Everybody Loves Raymond, but he earns it here. Both Holly and Ray get to have some great comedic moments here too, particularly when they witness one of Kumail’s live shows.

The endless parade of potential Pakistani wives for Kumail is also played for laughs, but their is some dramatic tension in it. Kumail knows he stands to potentially lose his family over choosing an American girl. And if you’re wondering where you’ve seen Anupam Kher before as a kind-hearted Muslim father preaching the importance of keeping marriage within your own culture, let me do you a favour: it’s everyone’s favourite (well, my favourite) early 2000’s British girl’s soccer movie, Bend it Like Beckham.

anupa,.jpg

I have no idea how he feels about being typecast in this way, but he carries a fair bit of emotional weight in the family scenes.

Lastly I come to Zoe Kazan. It’s a real shame that the mere fact of Kumail and Emily’s story requires her to be sidelined for a significant chunk of the film, because she simply lights up the screen. If you’ve not seen 2013’s What If (also known as The F Word) then ignore what I said earlier about Life as We Know It and fire up your Netflix. You know how she wrote and starred in the fantastic Manic Pixie Dream Girl takedown that is Ruby Sparks? Well, What If is essentially the Friend Zone version of that, with bonus Daniel Radcliffe and Adam Driver. It is a rom com though, and remember what I said about the one thing we know happens at the end of a rom com. Zoe really gets to pull out her dramatic chops in parts of The Big Sick – it feels awful to say, but god is that woman good at crying. However she also gets to maintain her constant charm, and she can play it for laughs like the best of them (like when she doesn’t want to shit in her new boyfriend’s house).

All in all, I have to say that The Big Sick is fairly light on the ‘rom’. We like and root for Kumail and Emily to overcome their obstacles and get together at the end. But with one half of the couple off-screen for a good chunk of the movie, it probably verges more on dramatic comedy territory. I really hope that people who might stick up their nose at the genre will give it a chance – even if it’s just for date night.

 

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Katie Sparkes

A Romantic Realist

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