Movie Review – The Big Sick
Kumail Nanjiani is a comedian from Pakistan, born in 1978. He came to the United States as a teenager to attend college. He started appearing on TV in 2008. His first regular role on a series was on Comedy Central on the show co-created by Michael Showalter. That show was short-lived. He went on to be featured in the hit series Franklin & Bash on TNT. He was also popping up in small roles on various programs and films. He’s probably best known for his role in HBO’s Emmy-winning Silicon Valley. He teamed up with Showalter two years ago for the romantic comedy, Hello, My Name is Doris. When Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon decided to write a romantic comedy based on their own romance, they got Showalter to direct.
Nanjiani plays himself, or Kumail, an Uber driver in Chicago who is an aspiring stand-up comic. He apparently immigrated with his parents who wanted him to grow up in America but now they’re pressuring him to be a good Muslim and marry a Pakistani girl. One night at the comedy club, he meets Emily Gardner, played by Zoe Kazan (It’s Complicated and Ruby Sparks), the fictionalized version of Emily V. Gordon. She’s studying to be a therapist. She’s a petite and a funny girl who for some reason is taken with Kumail. He is funny and cute, but not as cute as his brother, as we’ll later discover, both in the film and in real life. Nevertheless, Kumail and Emily have sex that first night and reluctantly launch into a relationship.
At its core, this movie is about the dilemma that first-generation citizens face, or young immigrants who have become Americanized but whose parents are rigid in the ways of their native countries. The dilemma is centered around assimilation, and it manifests itself with Kumail not practicing Islam and dating white women. It’s clear the movie doesn’t really want to dive into religion, which is a definite missed opportunity. It’s not much of a debate any way. Kumail simply says he doesn’t believe. It’s never explored if he’s just opposed to Muslim traditions and practices, or if he’s an outright atheist.
No, the movie instead wants to be about Kumail’s dating life and his opposition to arranged marriages. However, the way the film is structured, it feels as if his opposition is to Pakistani girls in general. Kumail doesn’t really give them a chance or show any juxtaposition as to why the Pakistani girls he meets aren’t compatible with him, except that all the Pakistani girls are too eager, whereas Emily is mostly resistant to him, or constantly remarks either jokingly or not about how she doesn’t want to date him. Maybe Kumail just likes women who play hard-to-get.
This is in contrast to Meet the Patels where Ravi Patel who plays himself in that mostly documentary deals with the issue of arranged marriages but through his parents who hail from India, the neighboring country to Pakistan. Ravi Patel does similarly fall in love with a white girl, but at least we see the dates with the Indian women. The women aren’t just brushed off as jokes, as they are here. It’s never really made clear why Kumail wouldn’t even try with the Pakistani women. Does he resist them on principal? Is it simply because his parents recommend these women that makes him have no interest in them? Without answers to these questions, it feels as though Kumail is just prejudiced against Pakistani women.
Oscar-winner Holly Hunter (The Piano and Broadcast News) co-stars as Beth Gardner, the mother of Emily. Emmy-winner Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond and Parenthood) also co-stars as Terry Gardner, the father of Emily. They meet Kumail once Emily is hospitalized and put into a medically-induced coma. The movie then veers and becomes about getting to know Emily’s parents and the “promance” or parental romance that Kumail experiences. No, it’s not a bromance. It’s instead a promance. It’s unique and goes against the cliché of men being at odds with their potential in-laws. Here, at one point, Terry spends the night in Kumail’s bedroom. As a promance, the movie is interesting and compelling given the good performances from Hunter and Romano. Unfortunately, it distracts from the central romance between Kumail and Emily, which I failed to buy.
A better version of this story came ten years ago with Mira Nair’s The Namesake (2007). That film has much better direction from Nair who has much grander vision than Showalter. That film also has a much better central performance in Kal Penn who is a better actor than Nanjiani. That film also deals with arranged marriage and immigrants dealing with culture clash and issues of assimilation in a more nuanced and balanced why. That film also doesn’t go for the easy Hollywood ending. The previous film for Showalter Hello, My Name is Doris also didn’t have the easy or expected Hollywood ending, which made that film better than this one as well. That and it wasn’t as long.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.