The Big Sick : an unconventional romantic comedy

I miss romantic comedies. In the 1990s, I couldn’t watch TV without seeing a preview for one.  Nowadays, it’s rare to see one worth seeing. The movie industry in general is turning towards more serious subjects. While I appreciate some of these movies, I sometimes just want to watch a movie where I don’t have to think. I’d like to have two hours where I can just say “aww,” and swoon over (unrealistic) romantic gestures & plotlines.

“The Big Sick” filled in the gap for the romantic comedy genre but with a refreshing twist: the hero is Asian.  What’s even more surprising is that the movie did well. $59 million dollars well.  I can’t recall any movie featuring an Asian actor as the romantic lead – and South Asian, an even rarer thing- and having such blockbuster success.  Most of these movies are either independent or Bollywood (Indian cinema) and popular amongst niche audiences.

Big Sick cast
The cast of Big Sick Source: People Magazine

I enjoyed everything about “The Big Sick.” From its breakthrough featuring of a Pakistani hero to the dialogue,  this movie had me laughing and “aww”-ing (just the way I like it) from the beginning to end.

The movie is based on the real life story of how actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife. Both he and his wife wrote the script.  Kumail also starred as himself in the movie. Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani family and lives in Chicago. His parents want him to be a lawyer and marry a traditional Pakistani girl. Kumail has no interest in either.

Instead, he pursues a career in comedy. He is an Uber driver by day and stand-up comic at a local club at night. At one of his sets, he meets Emily, a University of Chicago (shout out to my alma mater, woot woot!) masters student. She’s funny and smart and hits it off with Kumail right away. She’s also American- a big no-no for Kumail’s conservative parents. He keeps his relationship a secret from them.

The Big Sick
Stars Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan Source: Apatow Productions

When Emily gets sick and goes into a coma, Kumail has to come to terms with how to reconcile his culture with his relationship. Helping him along the way is the relationship he develops with her parents.

This movie challenged the romantic comedy formula in many ways beyond the lead’s ethnicity. Often times movies rush to show people falling in love. The movies don’t build enough background into why these people love each other. Instead, the foundation of these relationships is almost entirely based upon physical attraction. If you’re watching these types of movies when you are young and no relationship experience, you’re then susceptible to thinking that’s how relationships work. That physical attraction is the only criteria to base a relationship.

This is not how real life works. “The Big Sick,” takes a more realistic view on how relationships evolve. The movie shows how the relationship flowers from banter and comedy. It makes sense to me what binds these people to one another.  I could envision a real-life couple I know while watching this.

One other stand-out part was this movie wasn’t just about the romantic relationship; it was about multiple types of relationships. Friends. Son and parents. Boyfriend and girlfriend’s parents. I particularly liked seeing the latter relationship. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (who play Emily’s parents) had great chemistry with Kumail. The friendship and respect they develop between each other is natural.  At no point did I think the casting was off or that the relationship felt as if was a contrived storyline.

Beyond just the storytelling, I was happy to see an on-screen a reflection of my culture. While I’m Indian by ethnicity, Pakistani and Indian cultures share a lot of similarities. These range from in terms of marriage expectations to family quirks, and community relationships. I cracked up at the family behavior multiple times. My friends and I laugh about that type of stuff all the time.

The Big Sick parents
Zenobia Shroff and Anupam Kher as Kumail’s parents

Hollywood should have made a movie like “The Big Sick,” years ago. If it had, we would now see more movies featuring South Asians (or people of color). Instead, “The Big Sick,” is the tipping point. I hope this movie leads to more diversity in leading roles.

About Sarita

I am known in my friend circle as the person who is most likely to know random television/Hollywood trivia. Thrilled to put my tv knowledge to use in writing reviews. In addition to writing, I love to read, and welcome the opportunity to talk on twitter on books, tv, or movies.

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