Many call “The Big Sick”, directed by Michael Showalter, a romantic comedy, but there are deeper issues involving family, partnership and connections that push the film more into dramedy territory, more a true romance with comedic elements. The result is a strong story about how families, no matter how different they appear, are the same because of the love they share.
Based off a true story written by its actual subjects, Kumail Nanjiani is a stand-up comedian who falls in love with grad student Emily Gardner (Zoe Kazan). When she contracts a mysterious illness that puts her in a coma after a big fight, Kumail connects with her parents whom he has just met, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). As his own family pressures him to marry an Indian woman, Beth and Terry help him learn the ups and downs of a long marriage, and he sees how their suburban culture is so similar to his Indian upbringing, showing him how love can transcend culture.
In a film that doesn’t shy away from the fear of death or the pain of disappointing family, “The Big Sick” manages to be an uplifting story of love that digs beneath the surface farther than many other films of its ilk. The characters are all charming in their own way, the way you love a family member despite their deficiencies, and the character arcs for each is moving and important to the overall story. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano carry the message of the film through their interactions with Kumail and drive the emotional spine.
A criticism may be that the film becomes a bit schmaltzy near the end and the story is very by the numbers, sticking closely to plot point A, plot point B, rising action, etc. and not deviating in a surprising fashion, but for a film that tries to incorporate different themes into this type of story, being overly formulaic is not a true detriment.
The film is about the passing of knowledge about love, across cultures, from one generation to the next and recognizing that finding your own path no matter where you came from is the most important thing in life. It’s a beautiful, timeless story set against a millennial backdrop.