BY ROGER THOMAS
I have been watching the trailer for this film for so long, I could quote the dialogue. Luckily, it was good dialogue. I was also thrilled to discover that all the best lines are not in the trailer; the brilliant writing continues throughout the entire film.
“The Big Sick” tells the story of a comedian from Pakistan named Kumail. One night he meets a young woman, Emily, at the club where he is performing. They begin to spend time together. They become involved. Then one day she discovers photographs of Muslim women that Kumail’s mother has been collecting for him. Emily is devastated that Kumail will not say that he is ready to abandon his family’s traditions and choose her. The two break-up. All this is revealed in the first third of the film.
Then Emily gets very sick and has to be placed in an induced coma. A friend calls Kumail and asks if he will go to the hospital. Emily’s parents journey to Chicago from North Carolina and find Kumail in the waiting room. That leads to several awkward moments that are best discovered on the big screen.
I have no reservations about calling this one of the best films of 2017 thus far. There are plenty of reasons but ultimately it is simply that good. Here are some of the reasons why it is so outstanding.
First, there is the cast. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are perfect in their roles. They are funny, smart and they come across as very authentic characters. Then there is Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. It is good to see Academy Award winning Holly Hunter again on the big screen. However, I think it is even better to see Ray Romano. I missed his television show all over again after seeing him in the film. These four actors, plus a bundle of supporting players, create a wonderfully crafted story of love, family, life, hardships, and challenges.
“The Big Sick” deserves an Oscar nod for the masterful screenplay. There are many moments of great humor and times that are moving, laughs and tears throughout. These characters are well-crafted and their dialogue sounds not like a movie script but rather like real conversations with all the awkwardness, passion, humor, confusion, and grace. Conversations that happen to all of us throughout our lives and almost every day.
There are also issues that the film explores. Kumail’s family members want to manage his life while he wants to be independent, free to choose what is right and wrong. Emily’s parents feel real awkward with Kumail when they first meet. Their daughter is no longer dating him, so why is he at the hospital? Emily’s dad brings up September 11th the first time Kumail eats lunch with the parents at the hospital. All of us experience conversations where we wish we had not begun a topic. All of us have started saying something only to realize we should not have verbalized the thought. That is the strength of the film; it is written for humor but it also seems very authentic words of conversation.
As I sat and watched “The Big Sick” I kept coming back to one word: differences. Kumail’s family came from Pakistan and have many traditions and expectations; it is very different life than the one Emily and her parents have lived in North Carolina. The generations between parents and children also create differences. The decisions that the characters have to make also cause differences. All of us have opinions, and they often differ. Agreement is not always possible, but would it not be nice if compassion and respect never wavered.
Finally, there is the ending of the film. No spoilers here, but be careful of what you read elsewhere. I was quite surprised as I left the theater but it was a very pleasant surprise.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.