It is no secret that the romantic comedy genre has fallen on hard times. When a good one comes along like ‘The Big Sick,’ it’s worth praising its charm. The reason it works so well is that it uses cinematic tropes and spins a fresh take on them. The characters feel genuine due to the fact that they are based on actual events and people. Stand-up comic Kumail Nanjani co-wrote the script with his wife, Emily Gordon. It follows their wild courtship when she was stricken with a rare illness that put her in a coma and almost took her life. You would think that a film with such a devastating plot point would be a recipe for disaster. It’s actually just the opposite. It sets the stage for a wonderful catharsis among the characters. There is an endearing balance of dark humor and dramatic irony that makes ‘The Big Sick’ the must-see romantic comedy of the year.
Kumail is a struggling stand-up comedian who moonlights as an Uber driver to make ends meet. He lives in a dumpy apartment in a bad part of town of Chicago with another comedian. Being Pakistani and raised in a devout Muslim family, he’s not the stereotypical leading man. This sets up an interesting challenge for him. Kumail’s parents want to arrange a marriage for him with a young Pakistani woman. It’s a common practice in their culture. The only problem is that after he performs on stage, he meets Emily (an adorable Zoe Kazan) who is a grad student at the University of Chicago. Their relationship feels authentic. Every time they hang out, they insist they are not seriously dating. At this point in time, Kumail has been living a double life. He plays the loving son that is not ready to settle down while he is able to pursue his dreams of being a successful stand-up comic. Obviously, something has got to give that prevents him from having it both ways.
Since his family would literally disown him for choosing Emily over a Pakistani woman, they break up. It has to be done. It’s the age-old adage, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Instead of a typical romcom beat, something tragic happens. The film changes from a playful romantic comedy to a serious drama. Emily falls ill and is hospitalized. Since her friends are studying for exams, they ask Kumail to go to the hospital to support her. This unusual turn of events makes the story more absorbing than a usual romcom beat. It gets more engrossing. The doctors are forced to place her in a medically-induced coma. This allows Emily’s parents to be introduced to the story. Kumail has to make the difficult phone call to her father Terry (Ray Romano) and her mother Beth (Holly Hunter). Beth is not happy that her ex-boyfriend is lurking around the hospital. She knows that they broke up and he hurt her daughter. The appeal of the story is that Kumail and her parents bond.
So now that Emily is in a coma, the parents are a delight to get to know. Usually romcoms don’t veer off in this direction but eventually the parents warm up to Kumail. They see what is special about him. Sure, he’s not successful yet and lives in a dumpy apartment but they see beyond his shortcomings that he’s a really nice guy. To take their mind off of their daughter’s condition, they go to the comedy club to watch Kumail’s stand-up routine. When a heckler makes a racist comment from the audience, it’s Beth that unravels and goes ballistic toward the ignoramus. It’s an endearing scene. Other scenes show Kumail dealing with his mother and father (Zenobia Shroff and Aunupam Kher) who believe they have their son’s best interest in mind. The supporting cast all feel like real people and make the story that much richer.
Ultimately the reason it is so satisfying is that we care about Kumail and Emily. We want them to be together. The film touches on topics that are normally not covered by a romantic comedy like the struggles of interracial relationships. ‘The Big Sick’ is funny and original making it the best romantic comedy of the year.