There’s an old adage that says that movie’s are basically empathy generators’; their job is to present you with characters and circumstances that are unfamiliar to you, and would probably never happen to you, and make you connect with them and care about them, within a timeframe of two hours. The greatest movies do this so well that you don’t even notice it, you just find yourself crying with the film, laughing with it, cringing from it, and pumping your fists in the air for it, all because it put in the effort to make you care about the people in it. So, if a movie’s success is measured in how well it makes you care about the lives of the people in it, then “The Big Sick” is one of the most successful movies of 2017, because no other movie made me care, connect, and just plain feel for its characters quite like this wonderful, small, little miracle of a film.
“The Big Sick” is based on the real-life romance of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon. It tells the story of how they met, how they fell for each other, the trials and tribulations they go through, and their eventual reconciliation. It’s a classic romantic comedy plot, filled with all the familiar tropes and beats that one gets used to seeing in this kind of film. But, the movie does something curious; as it unfolds this familiar tale of two young, struggling 20-somethings falling in love, it weaves in a whole host of other stories, the story of a group of young comedians who are helping each other succeed and trying to find their own unique voice, the story of an immigrant family trying to come to terms with its native identity and how it fits in the “melting pot” that is the US, and, most movingly, the story of an older couple that’s facing the prospect of their daughter dying, and the perspective that starts to offer them. Don’t be fooled, “The Big Sick” is a loaded film, deceptively weaving heavy and heady themes into a seemingly simple romance story, but always making sure to anchor that heaviness and thematic weight in the two utterly charming performances from Kumail (playing himself) and Zoe Kazan (subbing in for Emily).
However, that’s not to say that “The Big Sick” is a tear jerker, filled with emotional monologues and teary confessions. It is, in fact, a remarkably light film; and most of the film’s most memorable moments come from the expert comedic chops of its cast (and the deft comedic writing of Kumail and Emily, both of whom have worked on some of the best comedy material of the past 10 years). This is a movie made up of small moments, of light conversations and little asides that reveal small but vital details about the characters that make them so relatable, so familiar, so lovable. By the end of the movie, you feel like you’ve known these characters your whole life, like you’ve lived with them, laughed with them, cried with them, shared these significant moments with them. It’s not just Kumail and Emily, it’s Emily’s parents (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, in what would, in any other film, be show-stealing performances), it’s Kumails family (including his father, mother, brother, and sister-in-law), it’s even his fellow struggling comedians who seem to serve as some sort of Greek chorus, always ready with a snarky or smarmy line about Kumail’s current conflict.
“The Big Sick” is an oddity in terms of summer theatrical releases, it’s not a multi-million dollar blockbuster, it doesn’t derive its power from powerful world-ending moments of grandeur or from the sheer scope of its filmmaking. This is an intimate film in every sense of the word, a film that derives it’s emotional power from the normal, every day little problems that all of us go through, but in showing it to us through these characters, it gives us just as much emotional catharsis as a thousand apocalyptic epics, and it creates a movie that’ll stay with you long after the credits roll.