Comedy in the Real: The Big Sick

Warning: Some spoilers ahead.

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I’ve seen a fair number of romantic comedies in my life. Just a few days ago I watched Notting Hill. But then I saw The Big Sick. And boy does it make those other rom-coms look like lightweights.

The Big Sick, written by married couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon, is a slightly fictionalized version of their first few months of dating. Did you think meeting your girlfriend’s parents was bad? Well move over Spider-Man: Homecoming, because imagine if you met your girlfriend’s parents while she was in a coma. And you were Muslim and Pakistani, and they were white. And your parents wanted you to be in an arranged marriage.

Yeah, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts have nothing on this.

The Big Sick boasts wonderful performances from not only Kumail Nanjiani as himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily, but also Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents Beth and Terry. Greater than their performances, though, is their mere presence. When was the last time you saw a movie where there were multiple sets of (alive) parents, who have their own storylines and problems, and whose presence is shown as ultimately a positive thing for their children? I can’t think of one.

The idea that you leave parents behind when you grow up is one of the few things Hollywood is holding on to from past generations. It’s true that just a few generations ago the relationship between parents and children were different. But these days parents and adult children are usually very connected, and parents remain significant and constant parts of their children’s lives.

The Big Sick is about romantic love, sure. But I would argue it is even more so about familial love. Kumail bonds with Emily’s parents. His relationship with her parents is vital to his relationship with Emily. They teach Kumail plenty of things without being faultless themselves. Watching them interact with Kumail made me think of all the parents of my friends who have taught me things through the years, who have been mentors to me.

Kumail also cares deeply for his family, even when they are at odds. His parents want him to marry a Pakistani woman, one they choose for him. And while his mother’s attempts at arranging a marriage are played for laughs, it is also made clear that arranged marriages have made many happy couples. There is a respect for the culture and people. So just because an arranged marriage would not work for Kumail does not mean that those in his family who are in arranged marriages are unhappy or less-married. This film is extraordinarily pro-family, and I have a great respect for that.

The Big Sick is also an honest look at modern relationships, and it’s not just because of the interracial and intercultural aspect. It offers a look at today’s style of dating and tries to observe modern sensibilities while paying homage to the past. Kumail and Emily hook up on the first date, but Emily doesn’t get re-dressed in front of Kumail because she’s “just not that kind of girl.” They continue with their relationship by sleeping together, but they also reveal intimate details about themselves and genuinely care for each other. Kumail tries to be chivalrous without being condescending, Emily tries to respect Kumail’s culture and is distraught when she realizes she might tear him and his family apart. They love each other, but their dating strategy is messy, and from a Christian perspective, immoral.

But, I appreciated it. Even though it was awkward watching the film with my apologetic parents beside me, I appreciated that The Big Sick shows that today’s dating culture isn’t clean cut. It’s harder to navigate without rules, and I think the film doesn’t try and hide that. It doesn’t glorify it.

I just applied to two colleges. But it doesn’t matter how private or how Christian they are. Nothing is going to shield me from the attitude of modern dating and its root of insecurity. Luckily, though, if The Big Sick tells us anything, it’s that messes like these can be redeemed. Terry and Beth work through difficult marital problems, Kumail and Emily get married mere months after Emily’s coma, and it is implied that Kumail’s family starts to reconcile with Kumail (in real life, they welcomed Emily into their family).

That is what makes The Big Sick one of the most redemptive films of the year. And one of the funniest. The best comedy comes from real life, because comedy must start with truth, and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon have proved it here.

-Madeleine D

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