The Big Sick

“Kumail” (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani born stand up comedian living in Chicago, which is spooky because this is the real Kumail in the movie.

The film is inspired by autobiographical events that transpired around him, his real life partner and fellow writer of the film (Emily V. Gordon). The movie depicts the roller-coaster ride which followed, as the clash of cultures and illness threaten to derail everything.

“Emily” (Zoe Kazan – not his real life partner) is a Psych grad student who happens upon Kumail at the comedy club where he mixes with his “aspiring” comedy buddies. It’s low key, making no money, hanging on by fingernails, waiting to be discovered stuff. Being supportive or “enabling” each others not so great stand up, dependent on your view point.

Kumail is also an Uber driver which is convenient when the two finally get it on, he can drive Emily home, once he gets the app call.

All is going well, no commitment but clearly the couple are falling for each other and the pair show real chemistry and the dialogue is smart but believable.

So far, so romantic comedy for the millennial but the film then takes a left turn, as indeed the real couple did in real life. Kumail’s parents are strict Muslims wanting him to marry a “nice” Pakistani girl, preferably one that has been vetted by the family who appears each weekend at the dinner table, “look who just dropped by….”.

After establishing Kumail has been hiding the fact he has been dating a “white girl”, his family disown him. To make matters worse, Emily discovers the cache of prospective but declined Pakistani bride pictures box in a box, the relationship takes a turn for the “you’re dumped”.

Karma being a bitch, this is the very time something happens which turns the film into something else entirely. You can actually feel a change in the tone of the film, yet in a good way. Suddenly Emily’s family previously unknown to Kumail enter the picture.

“Beth” (Holly Hunter) and “Terry” (Ray Romano) working through their own issues and sudden stress, are not receptive to having Kumail around, why is he there, want does he want?

What follows is a mixture of real drama, an examination of cultural dogma, the confrontation of racial stereotypes and a love story set against all odds.

Both of the leads are solid, the deadpan delivery and irony from Nanjiani are a highlight with Kazan adding the sweetness, tenderness and a side order of sass which suits the role.

A stand out would be Hunter who adds humanity to a role which could easily have become a one note caricature. Romano adds a melancholic slant to his supporting role, despite or because of his terrible dad jokes.

Kumail’s family Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher & Adeel Akhtar provide the cultural touch points. They are not uncaring but are hidebound to rules which in this case, make both the parents and their offspring unhappy.

If there is a message it’s about tolerance and acceptance, which in today’s current US divisive environment is no bad note to strike…


Smart, funny and yet with something to say about life, friendships, cultural misunderstandings and everything in between, this is well worth a watch.