The romantic comedy is probably the genre most likely to make audiences—particularly the male audience—groan the hardest upon mention. It’s much-maligned for a good reason: the films are often formulaic, problematic, and are lacking in quality. They’re cheesy, ridiculous, make little sense, and will get you to roll your eyes thanks to all of the things that have to go right for the plot to play out properly. So, I have some good news: The Big Sick is a tremendous romantic comedy. Maybe the best one since the turn of the century.
The plot is based on the real-life relationship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who together wrote the screenplay for the movie. Nanjiani plays a fictionalized version of himself, while Emily is played by Zoe Kazan. The two characters begin a relationship near the beginning of the film and seem to be good for one another. But Kumail messes it up—for explainable, but ultimately unacceptable reasons—and they break up. Then tragedy strikes and Emily is placed in a medically induced coma. Much of the rest of the movie sees Kumail bonding with Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), all while growing as a person and overcoming the obstacles that previously ruined his relationship.
So, yeah, it’s a romantic comedy only because it’s about a romance and it’s really funny. And it is really funny. Kumail Nanjiani is a good comedian, and his and Gordon’s script is hilarious. It got the biggest laugh out of me this year, and there have been some funny scenes in 2017.
But what The Big Sick does even better than its comedy—which, again, is great—is have a tremendous heart and make everything feel real, which in turn makes us care. Of course, much of what is shown in the film did happen, and it’s written by the people to whom it happened, but that just adds to its authenticity. It has a greater understanding of its characters and situations than most movies of any genre do, and because of that it is easier to relate to the people, to their struggles, to the positions in which they find themselves, and the emotions they’re experiencing. You’ll come away from The Big Sick having felt and having learned something—in addition to having a sore face from laughing so hard.
The Big Sick is a tremendous romantic comedy.
There are also more things to think about in The Big Sick than one person loving another person. Kumail’s parents push him toward a traditional Pakistani relationship and continually try to set him up with Pakistani women—that’s one of the things that cause the initial break up. There are a couple of points in the film that address racial relations in America. Kumail also has a floundering stand-up comedy career that he’s trying to get off the ground. And the relationship he forms with Emily’s parents is, in some respects, more interesting than the one between him and Emily. There’s a lot going on and it’s all wonderful.
The Big Sick also features a lot of fantastic acting. Kumail Nanjiani is our lead, and even though he’s playing himself, it’s an excellent performance. He has to capture the uncomfortable nature of many of the circumstances in which he finds himself while still delivering the laughs. Zoe Kazan is always a joy to watch, even though she finds herself unconscious for many of the events in the film. The progression that Holly Hunter’s character goes through is fascinating, and I don’t know if Ray Romano has ever been as good in a movie as he is here. Seriously, he needs to take more roles if he’s going to deliver as good of a performance as he does this time out.
The Big Sick is a sweet, genuine, hilarious, thematically rich, wonderfully acted, and emotionally engaging romantic comedy. It might be the best one since at least the turn of the century, and it might even be my favorite one ever—recency bias duly noted. It’s made all the cooler because it’s based on real life—and the real-world participants wrote (and one of them starred in) it. That authenticity is a lot of the reason why it works, too. What a great movie.
Conclusion: The Big Sick is a sweet, genuine, hilarious, thematically rich, wonderfully acted, and emotionally engaging romantic comedy.
Recommendation: Go watch The Big Sick. Now. Maybe twice.