The Big Sick

Tom van Kalken | 19/07/2017

The Big Sick’ is one of the most enjoyable films of 2017.

The unexpectedly heartwarming interpretation of co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real life courtship proves that the romantic comedy genre is still alive and kicking with fresh angles yet to explore.

The transition from stand-up comic to comedic screenwriter is a well-worn and familiar career shift in Hollywood. Most of the time this move is well received critically, if not commercially. Just look at Mike Burbiglia’s ‘Sleepwalk with Me’ (2012) or Aziz Ansari’s hugely popular Netflix show ‘Master of None’ (2015).

In fact, Ansari’s show, which premiered it’s second season earlier this year, had much in common with The Big Sick. Both explore the challenges of growing up in an immigrant household, both have strong themes of self-realisation and both are brutally earnest in how they portray love and relationships.

Kuamli plays a fictionalised version of himself; a struggling comic in Chicago. He and his merry band of stand-ups (delightfully played by Bo Burnam and Aidy Bryant), perform at the local comedy club, where he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan). A brief romance, inevitable fall-out and subsequent break-up are quickly succeeded by a medically induced coma when Emily contracts a mysterious lung infection. This leads to an awkward, but ultimately heart-warming, relationship between Kumali and Emily’s parent’s (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano).

The entire cast does a fantastic job with the film’s often challenging themes, but the real standout performance comes from Nanjiani himself. This will come as no surprise to avid fans of HBO’s long-running sitcom ‘Silicon Valley’, the show that launched Nanjiani into the public consciousness. Although Nanjiani’s dexterous humour comes as no surprise, it’s his deftness and sincerity in some of the film’s more sombre moments that really highlights his versatility as a performer.

As Nanjiani shines, so to does his co-star and love interest Zoe Kazan. The chemistry between the two is addicting at times; their rapid fire, back and forth banter both funny and heartfelt. This chemistry, along with the sharp writing, make for a relationship that feels real, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of films in the ‘rom-com’ genre. Too often, characters seem to fall in love seemingly because the movie is telling them to fall in love.  A lack of specificity and sincerity in both script and performance is one reason the romantic comedy genre has such a bad rap and why films like Her (Spike Jonze, 2013), Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995) and The Big Sick succeed.


What The Big Sick proves, in leaps and bounds, is that romantic comedies don’t have to be dumb; they can be clever, and when are, they can be some of the most emotionally powerful films in cinema.