Silver Linings Playbook and Brooklyn are two contemporary films that completely engross you in their stories: boasting complex characters, layered thematic tones, with heartfelt and authentic snapshots of family. The Big Sick, a critical darling from this year’s Sundance film festival, would certainly fit in their company.
Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comedian from Pakistan, who often finds himself at odds with his family. He lies about studying for the LSAT, hides his real personal life, and suffers through dinner after dinner with Pakistani women his parents set him up with.
Secretly, he’s been seeing Emily (Zoe Kazan), an American grad student. Through her he is able to share his true self, inviting her to his (lousy) one-man show, and shows her B-horror flicks to test their compatibility.
While the setup isn’t totally novel for a romantic comedy, what works so great about The Big Sick is the authentic chemistry of their relationship. It feels like we’re watching these two people fall in love before our eyes, and it makes the rest of the film all the more heartbreaking.
Shortly after they go through a rough breakup, Emily falls seriously ill, and is put into a medically-induced coma to stabilize her condition. Her parents come into town, not pleased to see Kumail in her hospital room, and he finds himself torn between his obligations to career, his ex-girlfriend, and now his ex-girlfriend’s parents.
The heart of the movie lies in this unexpected but touching relationship between Kumail and Emily’s parents. He is unsure what his rightful place is as they endure this terrible ordeal, and they strike a balance of shared responsibility with helping each other cope through this tragedy. They come so far during Emily’s coma, that it’s easy to forget that for Emily, the last thing she remembers with Kumail is their breakup.
The Big Sick tackles very serious subject matter with the weight that it should. Emily doesn’t fall back for Kumail overnight, and the conflicts Kumail face with his family don’t go away that easily, if they even do at all. Its authenticity lies in this underlying tension, that things don’t wrap up quite so easily. This portrait of ordinary people enduring a horrible crisis is all the stronger for how believably, and warm-heartedly, it depicts the test and strength of love.