“The Big Sick” Turns A Real Love Story Into A Captivating Movie: BUST Review

by Erika W. Smith

Fans know Kumail Nanjiani as one of the stars of Silicon Valley, a frequent scene-stealer in Portlandia, and a standup comic – but the Big Sick, which Nanjiani both co-wrote and starred in, shows a new side to the comedian. (Which is not to say the film isn’t funny, because it definitely is.) Nanjiani co-wrote the Big Sick with his wife Emily V. Gordon, a journalist (and former BUST contributor!), TV writer, and author of SuperYou: Release Your Inner Superhero. The film, directed by Michael Showalter, is based on Kumail and Emily’s own, real-ilfe love story. Nanjiani, of course, plays himself; Gordon is played wonderfully by Zoe Kazan.

When the film begins, Kumail and Emily are quickly falling for each other, even though Kumail doesn’t exactly have his life together: he’s struggling to make it as a comedian and working as an Uber driver. He keeps his comedy career a secret from his devout Muslim, Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who are trying to arrange a marriage for him – something he’s passively pretending to go along with. Emily, for her part, is dating again after a divorce – something she keeps a secret from Kumail for far longer than she should. While the couple’s chemistry is undeniable, as time goes on, they bicker more and more often over their secrets and differences, until it all falls apart in a final blowup fight after Emily finds out Kumail hasn’t told his family about her. And then, soon after the breakup, Emily is put into a medically induced coma thanks to a mysterious illness – and Kumail decides to stay by her side.

Much of the film focuses on Kumail’s developing relationship with Emily’s parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) as they wait for Emily to come out of her coma; at first, knowing about the breakup, they’re reluctant to let him be involved in Emily’s care. But as the three of them spend countless hours at the hospital, they grow closer. All three characters are running on the highest levels of anxiety possible, which makes for both hilarious moments – including an incredible response from Kumail when Emily’s parents ask him about 9/11 – but also tearjerking ones. As Kumail decides to stay by Emily’s side, he also finds the courage to tell his own family about his relationship with her – and his comedy career, and that he’s not a practicing Muslim. In fact, more than a love story, this is a story about Kumail’s relationship with two sets of parents, his own and Emily’s – and both are full of conflicts that range from hilarious to frustrating to incredibly sweet.

For a romantic comedy – or romantic dramedy – the female lead is absent for a large part of the film. Because, well, she’s in a coma. Though I have no idea how this story could get told with Emily conscious, I missed her character’s presence when she wasn’t there. When she’s conscious, she has some of the smartest, funniest, wittiest lines in the film – my favorite is when, on an early date with Kumail, he shows her a B horror movie and she observes that she loves it when men test her on her taste in film. Luckily, her absence is partially made up for by Aidy Bryant in a standout supporting role as Kumail’s friend and fellow comedian. (Put Aidy Bryant in more movies, please!)

When Emily’s illness is finally diagnosed and she comes out of her coma, we see a new kind of conflict unfold. Things are exactly the same for Emily as the moment she went into the coma, even though everything has changed for Kumail. Which means that while Kumail is ready to spend the rest of his life with Emily, she wants absolutely nothing to do with him. This is a romantic comedy, though, so you know this is going to change. The film ends, however, not with a wedding or with the pair writing this movie together, but on an ambiguous, hopeful note – letting you know that though there’s a long journey ahead, these two are going to be okay.

More from BUST

“Silicon Valley’s” Kumail Nanjiani Loves Women Mentors And Female Comedians: BUST Interview

5 Ways To Embrace Your Inner Superhero – Without Wearing A Cape

Emily V. Gordon On Making Her First Feature Film, “The Big Sick”: BUST Interview

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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