Romantic comedies get a bad wrap. Does that mean that a lot of so called “chick flicks” are works of art? Dear God no. In fact, this genre has produced far more flops than greatness. But as a whole, a movie should not be solely judged on the fact that it is labeled as such.
Enter “The Big Sick”. A movie with lots of love, laughs, and most of all, heart. The key ingredients to a successful “rom com”. If you’re sick (pun not intended) of the same old boy meets girl formula than it might surprise you to find out that the lead girl of this film is in a coma for nearly half of it. No really.
The Big Sick strays from convention at just about every opportunity. It probably helps that the film is based on a true love story which is always much more genuine than anything contrived by Hollywood. Boy (Kumali) meets girl (Emily). But Kunmali comes from a strict Pakistanian upbringing. Kumali has embarrassed his family enough by pursuing a stand-up career. If anything they wish for him to stay true to tradition and marry a Pakistani girl through an arranged marriage. If not, Kumali risks getting disowned and cut off. The problem is Emily is not arranged and she’s really white.
Obviously, this cultural clash eventually leads into a big argument between Kumali and Emily and things quickly go south. They break up (spoiler alert but this was already spoiled in the trailers) and it looks like things are over. Now conflict like this is a very typical troupe for these movies. The couple always has the “it’s over for good” moment until they wind up rekindling in the end and share a beautiful kiss by the sunset right before the credits roll. Instead of this, however, Emily suddenly gets very sick and is put into a medically induced coma. Kumali rushes to her side even signing her medical permission forms even though they are technically broken up. With Emily gone, Kumali is forced to bond with Emily’s parents (while cutting ties with his own) and this is where the film really hits the mark.
“Big Sick” peaks to greatness when Emily is taken out of the picture. This is by no means a bashing on the character or actress Zoe Kazan who does a great job at portraying the lovably weird Emily. Unfortunately, Kumali’s and Emily’s romance is cute but slightly underdeveloped. For how long the film already is, I wouldn’t have minded an extra 20 or 30 minutes of padding to develop their relationship. I am aware that Kumali and Emily really weren’t together very long before she got sick so maybe there wasn’t a lot of material to work with. Nonetheless, a romance should be built upon the chemistry of its leads, and this one feels just a bit rushed and lacking.
Kumali’s relationship with Emily’s parents Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) is given much more attention. It’s a rather unique dynamic of people of different backgrounds and personalities that works so awkwardly well. Hunter’s performance is gruff but slowly grew on me. Romano also does a great performance as himself. Believe me, I love Ray Romano but his acting here isn’t a whole lot different than it was on Everybody Loves Raymond, maybe a tad bit more mature and sincere. While Kumali and Emily’s relationship is the focal point of the film, I found myself also invested in the relationship between Terry and Beth, which is clearly strained but loving. Their relationship is further explored in a hilarious and heartwarming scene where Terry crashes at Kumali’s place and they have a literal “bro talk” in the early hours of the morning.
As said, the middle third of “The Big Sick” is great cinema. This is where all the memorable and standout moments you saw in the trailers come from. This is also where the stakes are raised and the drama heightened. But there is also plenty of laughs sprinkled in along the way.
Spoiler alert, Emily finally does wake up. The growing relationship between Kumali and her parents is quickly pushed aside and the film’s long runtime becomes a little too apparent. While “Big Sick” has pretty much strayed from cliche, in the third act the film suddenly divulges into numerous “will they/won’t they” moments between Kumali and Emily. I felt like I was watching “Ross and Rachael” instead. Shifting fronts, Kumali’s conflict with his parents has a much stronger and bittersweet resolution. “Big Sick” argues that there is no definitive right or wrong when it comes to what is most sacred to us. Both sides (Kumali and his parents) have struggled, make valid points, and are faulty in their reasoning. But Kumali’s parents aren’t portrayed as villains for sticking up for what they believe in. Neither is Kumali.
It shouldn’t go without mention that there is a small supporting cast in the form of Kumali’s fellow comedian friends at his comedy club. However, with the exception of standout Bo Burnham, they are largely forgettable and unfunny. This was certainly a missed opportunity for some extra laughs and arguably the weakest aspect of the film.
Flawed but brilliant, “The Big Sick” will likely be 2017’s best romantic comedy. With a clever premise and a definitive edge to be different, “Big Sick” stands out in the crowd of other one note chick flicks. That being said, Kumali and Emily may not be cinema’s most memorable couple. I admire “Big Sick” more for its endearing social commentary than for the driving romance behind it all.