Thursday, February 22, 2018

Girlfriend in a Coma

Film: The Big Sick
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

The most interesting thing going into The Big Sick for me was Kumail Nanjiani, who I’d seen before here and there. I realized as well that I’d Zoe Kazan as well. I was less excited about her, though, because Zoe Kazan starred in and wrote Ruby Sparks, which I hated. Still, the demand of the list being what it is, I knew I had to watch it. Also, not wanting to end this with a bunch of 2017 movies, and having not many available at this point, it seemed like The Big Sick was a natural.

I’m delighted to say that The Big Sick is difficult to classify. It’s not really a dramedy and it’s not a rom-com even though it has all of these elements. It’s a slice of life story about the real Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gardner—how they met, fell apart, and came back together, mostly because of a near-fatal illness that struck Emily.

Kumail (playing himself) is a budding stand-up comedian from a traditional Pakistani family. That means that, among other things, he is expected to be a faithful Muslim and to allow his parents to arrange a marriage for him. He is very much expected to be something more than a stand-up comedian, but he struggles with just about everything. And one night, he’s mildly heckled during a set by Emily (Zoe Kazan).

So that’s our meet-cute out of the way and we dive right in to the big romance. It’s a forbidden romance for Kumail, though, because he is expected to submit to an arranged marriage or, at the very least, to marry a Pakistani woman. But the lure of Emily is too much, and eventually they are together all the time. But he can’t tell his parents, since even dating a non-Pakistani woman will get him ostracized from his family. In fact, his mother (Zenobia Shroff) continues to attempt to introduce him to women to marry. Eventually, this comes out. Despite the fact that Kumail and Emily are very much an item, he lets it slip that it can never be because pursuing the relationship will cost him his family and they split up.

It’s all pretty standard romance stuff, really, until Kumail is called out of the blue by one of Emily’s friends. She tells him that Emily is in the hospital and he needs to go see her. He goes and is told that she has a severe infection that is so bad that the doctors need to put her into a medically-induced coma so they can fight it, and Kumail is needed to sign off on the procedure. This done, he contacts her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who arrive from North Carolina, knowing everything about Emily’s failed relationship with Kumail.

I don’t really want to go any further on the plot, because The Big Sick really needs to be experienced for what it is. It’s surprisingly sweet and still manages to be genuinely funny in a lot of places. Kumail Nanjiani is one of those rare birds who is immediately likable. He is almost offensively mild and unassuming, but smart and possessed of excellent timing. Since this is his own actual story, it adds a level of strange realism to the film to have him playing himself. One imagines that his wife didn’t play herself because, well, the real-world Emily isn’t a comedian or actor.

Honestly, there’s a lot to like here, not the least of which is the cast. I can honestly take or leave Zoe Kazan, and for much of the film, she’s in a drug-induced coma, so that works for me. I’ve never been a huge Holly Hunter fan, either, but I like her here. There’s a fieriness to her that I appreciate in this film. She hasn’t really mellowed with age, but she has changed in subtle ways. There’s something less artificial about her now. Ray Romano is oddly cast, but is also a likable guy, and likable here in general.

So are there problems with The Big Sick? Not really. I mean, aside from my associating Zoe Kazan with Ruby Sparks, there’s not a lot here that I didn’t enjoy. The smaller roles for established comedians alike Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham only add to the overall charm and reality of the film.

Not many films can pull off such a winning combination of romance, drama, and comedy with the right tiny pinch of naivety. The Big Sick does it, and does it perfectly.

Why to watch The Big Sick: Gets the mix of pain and sweetness right.
Why not to watch: No good reason.


  1. I generally liked this movie. Unlike you, I went ahead and pigeonholed this as a romantic comedy, given its structure and beats, but I thought it rose well above the generic rom-com in terms of its authenticity.

    1. See, I don't think it's a rom-com in any standard sense. It's far too real for that, and rom-coms always seem to come with some level of unreality for me. This comes across as far too honest to be a romantic comedy despite being both a romance and a comedy.