This is Kumail. He’s an aspiring comedian and Uber driver; he’s not in medical school and a he’s definitely not studying for the LSAT so he can be a lawyer (just don’t tell his mother). His family is originally from Pakistan. He’d rather watch videos on his phone during prayer time and his mother’s ritual of having single female “pop” at dinner time is something he desperately trying to pretend isn’t what it is…introductions to prospective brides.
This is Emily (Zoe Kazan). She’s a grad student working towards her Masters in couples and family counseling; she met Kumail at a stand-up comedy show after he performed. They hit it off. She’s not Patkistani…like, really not.
After a one night stand – that ends in the ultimate female nightmare: calling for an Uber and hearing your hook-up’s phone pinning – Kumail and Emily agree that going their separate ways is the best thing for all concerned (and am I the only one who’s got problems with her hook-up now knowing where she lives?…ok, maybe I am) but they seemed to keep ending up (naked) spending time with each other.
The pair of reluctant lovers eventually end up in a real relationship; one that sets Kumail on a crash course with his family’s expectations and the lies he’s been telling everyone to keep things separate. Everything’s are going great until Emily finds pictures of all the Pakistani women Kumail’s been meeting at his parents house. Needless to say, she’s (rightfully) shocked and upset to discover she’s not only his secret but, despite how well things have been between them, Kumail’s put no real though into what happens with them in the future. At this point, for Emily, the relationship is over.
Why lie you ask?
Well, in keeping with tradition, Kumail’s parents expect to play a large role in selecting his future wife and as far as they’re concerned, his dating pool is limited to Pakistani women. But Kumail’s not interested in getting married right now and he’s really not interested in having his parents select his bride. There’s just one problem, he loves his family and doesn’t want to be shunned.
Yes, I said shunned.
The Big Sick is the story of an immigrant son so fully immersed in having the “American Dream” he’s ready to cut the cord to one of his culture’s the defining aspects: arranged marriage. It’s written by the lead Kumail Nanjiani and based on his own experience – this is not the “meet-cute” you’re looking for…
Every kid reaches that point in the their lives where going their own way and forging their own path in life is expected. At, least that’s (allegedly) the experience of most American kids. But if you’re from a family with deeply rooted cultural and traditions, reaching adulthood may only changes those expectations and obligations just waiting around the corner. Watching Kumail juggle his family, trying to kick-start his comedy career, and romantic relationships is at turns funny, familiar, and viscerally uncomfortable. It’s a rom/com with an entirely new perspective (because it’s not the typical Hollywood dynamic in case you missed it) on familial pressure to conform and be happy. It showcases how every easy one wrong decision can derail your life in a way that may just be irrevocable. When Emily falls ill, Kumail must not only face her parents and the consequences of how he treated her but the very real reality that even if she gets better, she may never forgive him.
I didn’t know what to expect from this film 1) because what I know about Pakistani culture and arranged marriage wouldn’t fill up an index card and 2) the movie’s supposed to be a comedy but the first thing the trailer showed me is the female lead Emily in a coma. Now, call me crazy, but I don’t know how you make the hard left towards comedy from coma. Yet somehow this film pulls it off with a rueful take on love, “meeting the parents” and a jaundice use of the feeling realizing you’ve disappointed people in a way you may not be able to fix.
I laughed, I watched with ill-concealed horror as his Kumail’s life came off the rails, and was fully invested in having “the sads” when it seemed like no one would have a happily ever after. I don’t know how close to the bone the characterization of Emily and Kumail’s parents were but Anupam Kher (in his 500th film), Zenobia Shroff, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter but they made the angst of being a parent, having your own marital issues to face, and knowing when to hold on versus how to let go, a heartfelt – and recognizable – view experience.
The Big Sick is a movie about relationships and choice. It’s about sacrifice, love, dreams, and learning to let go. Its a refreshing take on a relationship that barely stood a chance from the start but not for the typical reasons audience’s have come to expect from the Hollywood rom/com. It’s love in an age of cultural segregation being a thing (again), where choosing to be together is the real work and staying together means not only saying your sorry (and meaning it) but being able to forgive (and mean it) enough to start again.