Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love, but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s comedy-romance, based on their own true story, is something special, and more than the simple rom-com it might look like from the outset.
Kumail is a budding comedian who performs weekly at his local comedy club in Chicago. One night after his set, he meets grad student Emily at the bar and the two hit it off. They end up seeing each other more and more as time goes on, but as their relationship grows, cultural differences work against them. Nanjiani moved to America at a young age, and since he has stopped believing in his family’s faith and traditions — especially arranged marriage — he decides to keep ‘dating a white girl’ a secret to avoid upsetting them.
One unfortunate night, after the two have fought and seemingly broken up, Emily falls sick and Kumail is called to visit and make sure she’s okay. Her situation is serious and she has to be placed in a medically induced coma. Kumail meets Emily’s parents for the first time in what is one of the most awkward places and ways to meet your significant other’s parents. They don’t like him but he doesn’t want to leave. What they have in common is that they all want to figure out what’s wrong with Emily.
The Big Sick is a movie dealing with love and romance. The early scenes of Kumail and Emily are very cute, but this film tackles so much more. It’s a movie about race relations, friendship, family, bigotry, stand-up and balancing work, life and tradition.
Every week — it seems once weekly — Kumail gathers at his family’s house for dinner with his father (Anupam Kher), mother (Zenobia Shroff), brother (Adeel Akhtar) and his wife (Shenaz Treasury). At every dinner, his mother will stand up to answer a seemingly random knock at the door, and in comes a single Pakistani girl that “just dropped by” as she puts it. Kumail plays along, talks to the girl and takes the headshot photo that seems like a job application to me as I’m not educated on the process of arranged marriages. He drops all of the head-shots into a box he keeps at his apartment. Every dinner when told to go pray, he simply wastes time to do anything but pray for the fives minutes he’s supposed to pray. Kumail is clearly not a believer in his family’s Muslim beliefs, and he wants different things out of life — like his goal to be a big stand-up comedian. When he starts dating Emily, he knows he could never tell them, he knows he would be disowned by the family and he doesn’t want to lose his family. His resolve on his family’s issues later in the film is great and show’s Kumail’s character.
When Kumail meets Emily’s Mum and Dad played by the wonderful Holly Hunter and Ray Romano — the standouts of the film; Romano at his best and Hunter is just as amazing — it introduces an obvious ‘Meet the Parents‘ vibe, except Emily, of course, is in a coma next door as they struggle through their issues in the hospital waiting room. Although Emily’s family at first tells Kumail to leave, eventually through his persistence to not leave he gets to know the two and it leads to some of the best scenes of the movie. It’s awkward, it’s raw emotion and Kumail grows to know these two people quite closely.
On the stand-up side of things, Kumail and his group of friends at the comedy club are all trying to impress a scout looking for talent for an upcoming big comedy show. Kumail is doing well in his eyes and gets picked to perform at the showcase for that event, but the eventual family drama on all sides affects his work, as he struggles to balance everything even if he has a huge shot for his career in front of him.