Based on his life, The Big Sick follows Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) back when he was trying to break into the comedy industry. He meets a girl called Emily (Zoe Kazan) at a gig and falls in love, but his Pakistani family values cause a rift between them. When Emily falls mysteriously ill, Kumail waits by her bedside and grows closer to her parents as they hope for her recovery.
This is a romantic comedy, but with none of the sickly sweetness or try-hard attempts at humour that you might expect from that genre. The Big Sick is one of the most beautifully understated depictions of two people falling for each other and facing challenges in their relationship ever shown on screen, full of laugh-out-loud peaks (Kumail’s breakdown at a drive-through springs to mind), and troughs that will have you mumbling about something in your eye.
There’s comedy in spades, with a fantastic cast delivering honest humour at every corner of the plot. Nanjiani has a kind of quiet, intelligent but charming air about him, and his chemistry with Zoe Kazan is so tangible you can practically hold it. Their interactions as they become attached to each other are nothing short of a joy on screen; clever, realistic dialogue, and moments of specificity perfectly picked out to show the developments of their relationship.
Performances from the supporting cast almost steal the show. Holly Hunter as Emily’s mother Beth particularly stands out, and there’s been calls for her to be nominated in the supporting actress role – but, the genre of the film must have been too big a stretch. She’s formidable as this tiny, stubborn, Southern ball of energy, pacing like a caged animal whilst waiting for her daughter to pull through.
Ray Romano as Emily’s father Terry is the perfect complimenting character to Beth, all softly spoken and self-deprecating. The two of them manage to convey a depth and history which is remarkable given their limited screen time.
Alongside the touching love story and stand-up shows plays a very sincere family drama. Kumail’s Pakistani family are devoted Muslims, desperate to set him up for an arranged marriage and unaware he plays games on his phone when he’s meant to be praying. His mother Sharmeen (the incredible Zenobia Shroff) wheels in woman after woman – some clearly not suited, others more so – but Kumail struggles to adhere to his family’s expectations. A series of awkward dinner scenes play this out expertly.
If you were nitpicking, you might argue that it’s a bit long and slow in places, and that some of the pivotal character moments teeter on cliché – but these tiny issues are nowhere near enough to detract from the utterly delicious screenplay that Nanjiani and his wife (Emily Gordon) have produced, a screenplay that so lacks in self-indulgence, and instead revels in depth and charm.
The Big Sick is pretty much perfection in a movie. 5 stars. That’s all you need to know.