Carol Burnett once said, “comedy is tragedy plus time,” a theory that gladly speaks for itself in the personal testimony written and starred by Kumail Nanjiani in his cinematic standup performance: The Big Sick.
Everything Kumail narrates about his background resembles a comedy show’s beats: first, he briefly tells about his history with a grainy yellow-tinted film reel of Pakistan accompanied by his childhood photos; then, he goes through the highs and lows of his new romance with Emily, the White woman he falls for after she shouts at him from inside the audience. He helps us listeners to emphasize with his memories by showing their first awkward talk about high school embarrassments. Their secretive dates begin with her positioned in the car’s backseat and end with an awkward hug, their conversations intimate enough to place you in the moment. She is divorced, he is forced by his parents into meeting other potential wives from his home country, and his passive acceptance of the family standard hurts her. Unfortunately, he gets no chance to apologize to her, since a possibly fatal disease puts her into a coma.
Therefore, this movie resembles a drama more closely than a comedy, because we experience the moment how it felt to him, minus time.
Alongside the key story, Kumail also strives to teach us more about Paki culture, only after he openly mocks his family’s expectations to worship Allah. Other minor quirks of a standup routine are spiced in for extra flavor in the atmosphere: he laughs, he cries, racist comments are thrown at him, and we even hear his other comedian friends tell their catastrophic backstories, plus time.
Under the wrong hands, Kumail’s story would have fallen into a schmaltzy, predictable rom-com trap. But nope, you continue to guess whether the two end up together. Some little visual stimulators make you want to see good bloom out of the turmoil, such as Kumail listening to every voicemail Emily sent him.
Instead of resorting to attractive A-listers for the leads, the casting director got whoever best fit the requirements to play the roles, and thankfully the casting director had good taste. Kumail deserves more attention after his acting endeavor, as even something non-story related like him losing his cool over a fast food order communicates his inner condition. Everyone else gives fantastic performances too, expressing distinct reactions to Emily’s predicament as the walls close in on them. Although the most real performance was Holly Hunter, who played Emily’s mother; she does not play a stereotypically frustrated old woman, but displays an even balance between happy and sad moments. Expect to see her name in the Oscar lineup come January.
Just don’t expect to see any awards in the technical categories. The clearly low budget was no problem itself, except minimal effort exploited the minimal resources to generate any stunning visuals besides plain white, apart from the orange Paki home. The lack of artistic care made this look like every other rom-com out there, yet the enjoyment remains intact.
However, the jarring editing work might interfere with the enjoyment. The editor, Robert Nassau, rarely kept the actors’ positions consistent between shots, several of which ran too short to support the mood consistency. The sound editors deserve some blame to share too, for the voices talk over each other too much during conversations that were not meant to sound heated.
You may notice several other bothersome issues; it could be the standard, unromantic musical score by Michael Andrews (Donnie Darko), or the way it stereotypes fraternity boys, but perfection still drifts a long way from shore.
Although that matters little—I applaud Kumail Nanjiani for bravely sharing the most difficult period of his life with all of us. Based on my personal experience, the best stories come from real life, so we each should see The Big Sick to learn more about the meaning of love. Especially if you’re unsure about your role in the American dream, I for one recommend taking your significant other to hear a remarkable testimony by a greatly valiant soul.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
“THE BIG SICK (2017).” History vs. Hollywood. CTF Media. Web. <http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/the-big-sick/>.
The Big Sick. LionsGate. Web. <http://www.thebigsickmovie.com/>.
Russian, Ale. “First Comes Love Then Comes Coma? The Amazing Real-Life Romance of the Couple Behind The Big Sick.” Digital image. People. Wordpress, 10 Jul 2017. Web. <http://people.com/movies/the-big-sick-real-life-story/>.