"No Longer Faithful"
A Review of "The Big Sick" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Michael Showalter, Writers: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME!
"The Big Sick" tries to be a lot of things to a lot of people. Usually, this is a recipe for disaster. In this film, it works effortlessly. In no certain order, it is a comedy, story of romance, cultural/ religious education, medical drama, and a film about the power of family. For many movies, this would be a tall order, but this film absorbs all the pressure and produces one of the best movies of the summer.
The film features Kumail Nanjiani as Kumail and Zoe Kazan as Emily. Kumail is a comedian in Chicago and Emily is a master's student studying psychology. One night after a set, Kumail meets Emily. After a pretty weak pick-up line, they have a seemingly innocent one night stand. From there, they play Jim and Pam from "The Office," and we get to spend some time wondering if they will actually get together.
Soon, their relationship advances to the stage of meeting each other's parents. This is where things get complicated. Kumail is the son of Pakistani, Muslim parents who have been attempting for years to arrange a marriage with a never ending line of Pakistani women in Chicago. When Emily discovers this, it is too much for her to handle and she abruptly ends the relationship. After the incident, we are led to believe things are over between the two of them but then Emily is checked into a hospital for a mysterious illness. Needing someone to stay with her, a friend of Emily's reaches out to Kumail. As you can imagine, this further complicates matters as he finds himself becoming emotionally attached to someone in a coma, meeting her parents, and finally revealing his feelings for her to his parents. While I won't give the end of the film away, it was pretty breathtaking to me, kept me guessing, and defied my expectations.
Beyond the story, there were some themes that stuck with me throughout this film. First, I thought the film did a pretty great job of capturing the life of stand-up comedians. Kumail is an uber driver by day and a comedian by night. He lives in a small apartment and sleeps on an air mattress. Like all comedians, he struggles with getting noticed and chases the elusive dream of fame.
Secondly, as someone who grew up in the West and comes from a Southern Baptist family, this film did a great job of introducing us to Pakistani culture, the Muslim faith, and the role of parents in arranging a marriage. Ultimately, Kumail's parents want the best for him but don't fully realize the grasp American culture has on their son. What becomes apparent is Kumail's loss of faith. I found it very insightful to see someone of a different religion struggle to keep their faith. This is a storyline Hollywood could further explore in other movies.
This movie also does a thoughtful job of drawing us into a cultural tug-of-war between East and West. Both sides believe in love and tradition. Both sides have a role for parents to play. Both sides want the best for their children. What exists in this film are disagreements on how to best get there. This movie also does a superb job of putting Muslims in the center. For far too long, people of this religion have been relegated to playing terrorists and those on the margins of society. This film shakes away those notions and introduces us to a family worshipping differently than most Americans but struggling with the same challenges.
Finally, this film is about honesty and finding those moments to be courageous. We will all encounter those moments when we are required to bear it all. Above all else, we hope to keep our family intact when these moments happen. The fear of losing them leads to a lot of anxiety and unnecessary depression. Yet, through it all, we must be true to ourselves. In the end, this film did exactly that. For its effort, I cannot recommend it enough.
Be good to each other,