There are many, many small-budget films that are released in any given year. Most of them are overlooked due to the lack of an advertising budget or are swallowed up by the large-scale blockbusters that monopolize most theaters. And then, on occasion, one breaks through. It strikes a chord with film lovers. Word-of-mouth builds. It makes itself known to general audiences. And it finds true cinematic life. The Big Sick is one of those films.
Directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris), The Big Sick recounts the true story of star Kumail Nanjiani (star of “Silicon Valley”, fan of “The X-Files”) as he meets his future wife, Emily Gordon. Nanjiani and Gordon co-wrote the script themselves and – as suggested above – Nanjiani plays himself, with Emily being portrayed by the wonderful Zoe Kazan (The Monster – check that one out for a completely different side of Kazan). Having co-written the film, themselves, Nanjiani and Gordon retained control of the story and kept firm hold of all the highs and lows, laughs and cries, and failures and successes of their own, intimate tale.
Knowing that the two lead characters co-wrote the actual film naturally leads to some unavoidable spoilers, but the heart of this narrative lies in its journey, not its destination. Nanjiani has been heavily promoting the film and actively proclaiming it as a labor of love between he and his wife. They want the audience to know how it ends – with Kumail and Emily together. The point is what they overcame to get there and how one can never be sure what may lie in their own future.
In today’s world, a lot is made about America and their ongoing levels of intolerance, much of which stems from closed-minded religious practices. And, certainly, much should be made of it. But The Big Sick reminds us that America isn’t isolated in its culpability regarding dogmatism. Originally hailing from Pakistan before moving to Chicago, Nanjiani’s family clings tightly to their traditional Muslim beliefs, whereas Nanjiani has grown to embrace a more open, liberal view of the world and of love. Understandably, he wants no part of an arranged marriage, despite how insistent his mother (Zenobia Shroff) is upon the custom. Once Kumail meets and falls for Emily, he fears telling his family about his relationship with “a white girl” as he knows his family well enough to predictably expect them to force his hand in choosing between them or to be excommunicated. Complications organically arise and are only furthered when Emily falls suddenly and mysteriously ill (hence the film’s title) and Kumail is introduced to her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) under severely unfortunate circumstances.
The Big Sick is a slice of modern life. In fact, I have often (and unimaginatively) referred to films such as this one as “Life Movies”, because they don’t paint themselves into one specific corner with regards to genre, just as a day in real life doesn’t. The goal here is simply to tell the story in a clear, concise, and – most importantly – honest fashion. It’s a comedy when it’s appropriate. It’s a drama when it’s appropriate. And, like many of us (including me), Kumail uses humor as a defense mechanism, so, sometimes, it’s even a comedy when it isn’t appropriate (one such instance got a bigger laugh from me than any other moment in the entire film). But the film never loses its charm nor its perpetual sincerity. There are no evil villains. There are no perfect heroes. There are just real people who are the sums of their life experiences and are trying desperately to reconcile themselves with the complex world around them.
For me, personally, the film brought back some memories. It took me back to the One That Got Away. It made me question how I let that happen, or even if I could have done anything to prevent it, at all. Did I screw it up? Did she? Did both of us? After time, would I have even wanted to be with her? What if she had voted for Trump? What a horrible way for it to have ended (and it would have ended). It’s that horrible purgatory of not-knowing that has left me where I am today – unable to move on and holding her high on a pedestal that she likely doesn’t even deserve. But it’s movies like The Big Sick that turn its audience into introspective soul-sleuths and that’s largely the purpose of art, is it not? To make one think about the reality of life and what may or may not happen, down the line (not for me, probably. She’s married. With a kid. And I’m pretty sure she hates me, too.) – to open one’s eyes to previously discounted possibilities – to remind one of the delicate nature of existence and that tomorrow is not guaranteed – these are the hallmarks of films that are more than just simple movies. They’re important.
The Big Sick is not flashy. It’s not loud. There are no exorbitant special effects. There’s no soundtrack full of hip, flash-in-the-pan, wannabe garage bands. The Big Sick is a poignant reminder that life is unpredictable and should be cherished as such. It should be embraced and not resisted. Love, not hate, drives progression, both on a worldly scale and on a personal one. See those big movies. See Wonder Woman (again) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (again) and War for the Planet of the Apes. But leave a few dollars for The Big Sick. Ironically, it may just be the cure you’ve been looking for.
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