“The Big Sick,” is a giant-hearted, irresistibly funny romcom with serious things on its mind–romantic love, love of family and corresponding responsibility, ethnicity, immigrant culture coexisting uneasily with the American mainstream, illness, and the need to do fulfilling work, even if success is not guaranteed. Michael Showalter directed the film from an autobiographical script by real-life couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars, with Zoe Kazan, two perfect performances).
They meet cute (of course), when Emily, a psych grad student, heckles Pakistani-born Kumail during his sly standup set at a small Chicago club. They go home together, no expectations, and as their one-night stand expands into many nights, they try to deny the rightness of their less-than-likely relationship, self-preservation in brave new dating world, and a tacit understanding of their different backgrounds.
Low-key, good-natured Kumail has dinner on Sundays with his close-knit, traditional Muslim family, lying about LSATs and meeting a parade of lovely, brainy Pakistani bachlorettes, each of whom “was just in the neighborhood.”
When Emily finds a boxful of photos of the potential brides, she realizes why Kumail won’t introduce her to his parents, and refused to meet hers when they were visiting. Squeezed by an impossible choice, he says, “I can’t lose my family…can you imagine a world where we’re together?” She replies, “I don’t know.” They split up.
An unexpected medical crisis brings them back together. A grad school friend of Emily’s, needing a break from the hospital to take finals, informs Kumail that Emily has been hospitalized with a diagnosis-resistant illness and has been put into a medically induced coma. He awkwardly begins to visit her daily and slowly wins over her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, two more perfect performances), who have frantically arrived from North Carolina, and are aware that Kumail had dumped Emily.
As the doctors begin to stabilize and cure Emily, Kumail, Beth and Terry form a familial bond. Kumail acknowledges his love for Emily and that he wants to marry her. Terry, originally a New Yorker, whose southern in-laws had rejected him, explains how Beth’s family grew to accept their marriage: “Lots of fucked up dinners.”
Waking up, healthy but weak, Emily is unaware of Kumail’s vigil (with stuffed giraffe), love and plans for the future. Saying, “You made me sad in my heart,” she asks him to leave her room and send in Beth. A second reconciliation attempt, with props, at a party to welcome Emily back to her life, also fails. Kumail, heart-broken, and estranged from his family (he had told them about Emily), moves to New York to pursue his comedy career.
But don’t worry about your investment in Kumail and Emily’s happiness. Suffice it to say, “The Big Sick” ends full-circle cute and I guarantee you’ll cry.
“The Big Sick” opens today at AMC Lincoln Square 13 and UA Union Square 14, and in Los Angeles, with a national rollout to follow.