The Big Sick ★★★★

Riding the train into New York to see one of the first showings of "The Big Sick," I couldn't shake the fear that this movie would suck. It had to, right? There were just too many expectations, and it was bound to disappoint us somehow. I mean, it was Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's first feature length script about the incredible true story of their relationship. It was directed by Michael Showalter after last year's surprisingly touching "Hello, My Name Is Doris." It was a big hit at Sundance, scoring the festival's second-largest acquisition deal of the year. The list goes on. Ray Romano. Bo Burnham. 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Oscar buzz, even. Simply too good to be true.

Well, almost as unlikely as meeting your ex-girlfriend's parents in the hospital while she is in a medically induced coma, "The Big Sick" actually lived up to the incredible hype surrounding it. Seriously, how does one create a successful and engaging romantic comedy when one of the lovers is unconscious for half of the film? The answer is that the film can be split into two halves, each containing its own separate love story. In the first half, Kumail and Emily meet at a comedy club, and despite their individual hang-ups about commitment (Kumail's religious family wishes that he marry a Pakistani Muslim and Emily is hesitant to date after a failed marriage), they fall in love. Then, in the second half, when an un-diagnosed illness forces doctors to place Emily into a medically induced coma following an ugly breakup, Kumail realizes he has made a huge mistake and attempts to win the hearts of Emily's parents—a love story arc in its own right.

It's hard to make a fresh romantic comedy these days, even when approaching it from the "winning over her parents" angle, because that too has been done before. What makes "The Big Sick" work is the honesty with which it was written. Kumail and Emily's banter as they are dating is so natural, true to the way that couples actually make each other laugh. And when the lovers split, it's not over some comedically tragic misunderstanding; it's because both characters at that time truly cannot see a future together. When confronted by his parents about his religious beliefs, Kumail dodges the cliché of a loud monologue revealing his bottled-up feelings. He simply says, "I don't know." And rather than neatly burying the hatchet at the end, as so many films do to create a picture perfect ending, the credits roll without Kumail being forgiven by his family. Because real family disagreements take more time to heal. Similarly, Emily doesn't wake up from the coma and run to Kumail's arms for that big, cinematic kiss, because she has been unconscious for all of his progression as a character. When she wakes up, in her mind he's still the jerk who hid her from his family. Honest choices like these allow the audience to trust the screenwriters completely and become engrossed with the film.

Like all first screenplays, “The Big Sick” is not without flaws. At first glance, it’s almost impressive how the film manages to cover so many topics without short-changing any of them. Love, family, religion, stand-up comedy—all of these share a healthy amount of screen time and each complete an independent arc that feels integral to the core story. However, at 119 minutes, after passing multiple exit ramps before finally reaching a conclusion, there were certainly some darlings left to be killed in this film. Still, the damage done by the excess of scenes, themes, and characters is minimal, as the film’s honesty and warmth endures despite a bloated run-time.

Michael liked this review