SPOILER ALERT: This movie is now available with Amazon Prime, so if you have not seen it yet I highly encourage you to go stream it before reading this review. I'll try to avoid any major spoilers, but I will discuss plot points and moments I found to be significant.
I really, REALLY enjoyed The Big Sick. It's funny, it's charming and it is incredibly well-written by husband/wife duo Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars in the film) and Emily V. Gordon (played in the film by Zoe Kazan). This movie is a semi-autobiographical story of their romance, and the first half of the movie plays like a romantic comedy, and a great one at that. As the movie progresses, it goes for something more. That's one reason why it's one of my favorite films of the year.
Kumail comes from a Pakistani family. His family moved to the States from Pakistan when he was younger, but they still try to follow many of the rules of their culture. Of the many things this film does well, one is certainly how it depicts this culture that many of us who have grown up in the States may not know much about. For Kumail, Pakistani traditions continue to seep into his everyday life, and he's not sure if he's on board with all of them. Chief of those is the tradition of arranged marriage.
His parents had an arranged marriage. His brother has an arranged marriage. It worked out well for them. But as Kumail sits through awkward dinner after awkward dinner of his mother's attempted set-ups, he increasingly feels that it isn't the option for him.
Outside of family life, Kumail is a stand-up comedian. During one of his sets, he meets Emily and the romantic comedy baseline is set. As I said before, this film would be a fantastic romantic comedy if that was its only aspiration. It had me laughing throughout (including probably the only 9/11 joke that has ever gotten a genuine laugh from me). The relationship between Kumail and Emily is so charming that you begin to fall in love with the film.
Then comes the plot twist that lends the film its title - Emily gets seriously ill.
At this point, Kumail begins to interact with Emily's parents, Beth and Terry (played fantastically by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). This is where the film begins to showcase even more ambition. The screenplay adeptly showcases the labyrinth of our country's healthcare system at a time when that is particularly relevant in the current cultural discourse. Not only do all of these people have a dear loved one in a serious health situation, but they are forced to navigate a serious of large, intimidating words of whose meaning only doctors would have any semblance of an idea. They are also forced into serious financial risks with no guarantees that any of it will work. Oh, and by the way, living a "healthy" life isn't a guarantee itself. Anybody can be faced with these situations at any time. It's scary, yet we press on nonetheless. As Beth says at one point, we're all just "winging it."
There were also many tender moments - mostly dealing with how these characters navigate Emily's illness. One in particular comes when Kumail tells Beth that it might be the last time they see each other. Beth responds, "I hope not."
Interestingly enough, with how the script is written, one pitfall for which the film sets itself up is that Emily's sickness and entire character, in fact, is only there for the personal development of the others. But Kazan plays the role so well, and the writing gives her such an individual and powerful personality that I never felt the movie quite went there. Yes, the other characters develop quite a bit while she's in the hospital, but before and after her coma Emily has her own agency. At the end, I felt that she was the hero as much as any of the other characters.
The real-life Nanjiani along with Kazan and Romano all give fine performances. But Holly Hunter is the headliner here. I certainly hope there is a Best Supporting Actress nomination waiting for her at this year's Academy Awards. She is fantastic!
Finally, I cannot finish my review without discussing another of my favorite aspects about this film. It showcases a culture (Pakistani) with which I wasn't particularly familiar before. You will learn a great deal about everyday Pakistani culture in this film. I think a film that can at one time be a romantic comedy, a drama AND introduce viewers to an entire culture is pretty impressive. The plot line surrounding Kumail's family and their adherence to Pakistani norms is really quite powerful. That Kumail must find out what he believes on his own was particularly moving for me. And though his parents react quite harshly to his non-arranged relationship, you can see that they still love him. I think this film has many interesting things to say about how culture impacts our relationships and about how love goes even deeper than we may think.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best films I've seen all year. One of my only major criticisms is the length - The Big Sick feels much longer than your average romcom. It's a tricky situation - the movie tries to do so much, and so much of it succeeds. But to cover that much narrative area, the runtime will obviously be impacted. I'm not sure quite what I would take out, but the movie is a tad on the long side. Here's the thing though - if you're anything like me, you'll simply get caught up in the story and forget the movie's length. It really is that good.
At the end of the film, some pictures showcase the real-life relationship between Kumail and Emily. That this is a creative re-telling of a true story makes it that much more impactful. This is a film I am sure to be revisiting for many years to come.
Note on content: This film contains profanity along with frequent sexual dialogue. Having said that, no nudity is shown on screen. Some of the hospital scenes are intense for their life-and-death nature. Overall this is a film that, while it may not be appropriate for younger viewers, should be appropriate for most all teenagers and adults.