It becomes quickly evident while watching The Big Sick why it is now one of the highest grossing independent American films ever made. Martin Carr finds out what all the fuss is about…
There is a freshness, subversion and genuine warmth which The Big Sick brings in spades. Similar tonally if not structurally to When Harry Met Sally, what Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan have given us here are two landmark characters. Copybook tick lists are still present and correct but that awkward feels new, those arguments and reconciliations revitalised while humour is not always the point.
Based on a true story and portrayed in part by its real people The Big Sick smacks of authenticity. Cultural approaches to marriage and relationships are addressed in a realistic way, avoiding stereotypes and drawing on humour through circumstance whilst feeling grounded. Solid support comes from Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar and Anupam Kher who make a great deal of low key roles, scene stealing on a small level without distracting us.
Written by Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon it feels a lot like the perennial When Harry Met Sally perhaps because of this writing dynamic. Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner were married when the Billy Crystal/Meg Ryan classic was penned, making it collaborative in a way few rom-coms have been since. That intimate knowledge, shared experience and love of expected tropes makes The Big Sick at once unbelievable yet hugely endearing. Peppering the cast with real comedians, basing elements within the confines of a comedy club, but making it about them not their routines also puts another spin on things.
These characters are a fraternity of misfits held together by the same insecurities and thrust for approval which fuels us all. Undermining this conceit through Zoe Kazan’s idiosyncratic normality as Emily almost makes the rom-com element redundant, as her honesty grounds everything else. Nanjiana and Gordon’s shaping of his fictional family is approached similarly, as traditions are used to promote well intentioned humour borne of character not culture clash. Which makes them feel like rounded creations who serve a purpose rather than token gestures there to appease minorities.
That Kumail and Emily get together in the end should be of no surprise to anyone, because after all rom-coms are designed to do that. What sets this apart is their journey from ‘meet cute’ to resolution where curve ball after curve ball is thrown with care. Audience expectations are circumvented, resolutions never fully provide closure and life as in reality remains open ended. In my opinion a top five slot awaits The Big Sick in romantic comedy polls everywhere very soon.