The Big Sick: A deadpan rom-com that hits and misses
Posted on 1 July, 2017 by Team Wishberry
Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick has been in the indie circuit news for quite some time now. After being crowned the big indie winner at Sundance (Amazon nabbed rights to the film for a whopping 1.2 Million dollars!), the film came to India on June 29.
Written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, the film is a reel-life depiction of the duo’s unlikely courtship. A cross-cultural tale, The Big Sick demonstrates the coming together of two people despite obvious barriers — culture, race, millennial commitment phobia and the fear of ‘labels’ — and a twist-in-the-tale plot-point as well — a mysterious illness that puts the woman in a medically-induced coma!
What the film brilliantly conveys is the realness of such a union. How can ‘brown’ Pakistan parents allow their son to get together with a white woman? How does an immigrant, who came to the US at the age of 14, realise his ‘American Dream’, not upset his family, and fall and stay in love? How does a woman come to terms with the fact that the man she is in love with is actually ‘auditioning’ prospective ‘wives’ for an arranged marriage? Finally, despite its racial diversity, will ‘America’ allow these two to come together?
As a stand-up comedian, Kumail Nanjiani is witty. He stars in the film and plays himself quite believably! His timing is near perfection as his expressions communicate the irony of driving your date home after a first date, as you are her Uber driver, or pretending offer Namaz in the basement of your parents' house because they don't know how much you've changed after landing in America, and even accepting a surprising 'Woo-Hoo' from a pretty girl in the audience during your stand-up routine! His parents, played by Anupam Kher (Azmat) and Zenobia Shroff (Sharmeen) provide a lot of laughs. As a mother, Sharmeen is on a mission (to find a suitable match for her son) and she doesn’t cloak it. Azmat on the other hand is happy to tag along and not cross his wife! Then there are Emily’s parents: Ray Romano is perhaps most famous for Everybody Loves Raymond and his character of the awkward man who is caught between his wife and mother (this time though, it is Kumail and not him battling this all-too-known dilemma!). His exudes the same lovably awkward persona in this film as he doles out illogical love advice to Kumail, deals with his wife’s outbursts because of an ugly secret, and maintains the calmness that is required when one’s daughter is battling an unknown illness! Holly Hunter plays Beth, Emily’s mother. She is the perfect foil to Romano — she is vocal, doesn’t shy away from showing her emotions and is even willing to get into a bar brawl!
Actually, Emily’s coma is a big character in the film! It drives the narrative and provides all the dark humour in situations where one would otherwise expect sombre music and slow-motion shots! The humour makes the coma more believable and humane. It is there to tell you that unlike melodramas, in real-life situations, people do go out to a comedy club despite their daughter being in a coma, they also get drunk with her ex-boyfriend and then spill uncomfortable truths, and even talk about tuna sandwiches in the cafeteria! Finally, it manages to show that unlikely bonds form when there is a situation that turns your very life topsy-turvy.
As far as the film’s pace goes, it feels a little slow at times. One understands the director’s intent of showing human emotions and the various conflicting sides of it, but a tighter film would have been able to deliver a better punch. And talking about punches, the opening of the film itself is a Pakistani-immigrant-in-America-doing-stand-up cliché — you will hear the same joke about Pakistan, praying 5 times a day, and not getting cable TV. Yes, it might have been necessary to introduce the central character of the film, but haven’t we all heard these comparisons before? What the film gets right is the struggle of the stand up comedian. They have good days and they do have bad days, and if they are immigrants, they drive an Uber to get by, live in a cramped apartment with another struggling comedian, and fight the disapproval of their family and peers on a daily basis. On some days, their punches land, and on others, well, there not a single titter in the entire room.
I know that this review doesn’t talk about the female lead Emily played by Zoe Kazan. But there is a reason for that. There is nothing to say about her! For most part of the film, she lies in a coma and is only talked about in third person. And when she is there, she is only there to support the male protagonist’s character graph. She is there to cheer him on, she is there to upset the delicate balance of his life by discovering a box full of photos of prospective brides and sadly, she is there to fall into a coma so that the hero can finally see things clearly — he doesn’t have to please his parents blindly to earn their respect, he can chase his dream of becoming a full-time stand up comedian by moving with his friends to New York and most importantly, he can love a white woman and envisage a future with her as well!
Apparently Emily likes birds. But we don’t hear her talking about it — Kumail does.
All said and done, The Big Sick is easy on the eyes, but not without its limitations.