Film Review: The Big Sick

The Big Sick is a 2017 romantic comedy film starring Silicon Valley star, Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. It is based on the real life story of Kumail and his wife Emily Gordon. The film explores how the two met, as well as the challenges they faced as a result of Kumail’s familial commitments and Emily’s sudden coma.

I first heard about the film about a year ago when I discovered the show Silicon Valley which Kumail plays the role of Dinesh Chugtai, a programmer from Pakistan working at a tech startup. The show quickly became one of my favorites and I was excited to see an actual Pakistani actor and character that wasn’t depicted as a terrorist, (such is a rarity in hollywood!) but as a regular guy. There’s no shortage of brown actors in Hollywood but often most of them are Indian or play Indian characters, so having the representation of a Pakistani actor on this show was great.

The Big Sick also explores Kumail’s Pakistani roots and the conflict he faces between pursuing the love of his life and maintaining family commitments that are rooted in culture. Although Kumail and his family moved to America when he was 18 years old, they still remain true to their cultural roots. They consistently ridicule his career as a comedian, which they view as unconventional, and frequently introduce him to a number of Pakistani women in the hopes of him settling down and getting married. At the surface, Kumail appears to be compliant with their demands as he continues to meet these women without much thought, and also pretends to be preparing for law school, which they see as a more appropriate career choice. He is, however, unfazed by their ridicule and continues both his career and his relationship with Emily, a white American woman.

The film explores the conflicting emotions that Kumail faces as a result of his ethnic background. Having been born and raised in Pakistan myself, the story of parents pushing for arranged marriages is not new to me, as is the idea of parents having a limited view of careers that they approve of for their children. However, Kumail steps out of his parents’ conventional views that are prescribed to him and makes choices that go against their desires. Near the end of the movie, Kumail acknowledges the sacrifices that his parents have made for him, but says that he wishes to go his own way and make his own decisions.

What I like most about the film is that it strays away from the conventional “rom-com” that Hollywood has seen: there are no over-the-top story lines, the female lead isn’t swept off her feet by a rich, highly attractive man, and there are no men fighting for her. While most rom-coms explore this fantasy-like trope, the Big Sick  is different in the sense that the characters feel just like normal people, so-much-so that you can relate to them on an emotional level and adopt their stories as your own. I felt that I could really connect with Kumail and Emily’s story and although I don’t particularly agree with the path that Kumail took, I can still understand why he took it.

While Hollywood has no shortage of rom-coms, The Big Sick stands out because of its simplicity. If you’re looking for a movie with an exceedingly charming billionaire who sweeps the female lead off her feet, this may not be the film for you. The story is about two ordinary people who somewhere along the way, find love in their ordinary lives. However, I would still recommend it to everyone because while it might not be what you’re looking for, you might still end up being charmed by its simplicity.

 

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