“The Big Sick”: Delightfully fresh rom-com

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Ring the bell! Call an ambulance! I liked a rom-com biopic! I must be sick! I must have… (snickers)…a BIG SICK.

But seriously, I enjoyed Michael Showalter’s rom-com based on the premarital relationship of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Kumail and Emily wrote the semi-autobiographical script (note the “semi-”) about meeting in Chicago, dating, breaking up, and then, naturally, Emily being put into a medically induced coma that forces Kumail to confront his Pakistani traditions and bond with her parents.

First off, neither rom-com’s nor biopics are usually my kinda jam (I don’t love cute romances, sue me). So despite all the good reviews pouring in about it, I didn’t walk into “The Big Sick” expecting to be blown away. And I wasn’t, but I liked it a lot more than I thought! It’s earnest and pointed and delightful in ways I didn’t see coming and tackles dating in 21st century America with a lot of heart.

It’s the first rom-com I’ve seen in a while that reminded me of my experiences dating, which is saying a lot considering I’ve never dated a Pakistani guy whose parents were upset that I’m white. But it genuinely takes on the awkwardness of Uber rides, being busy, sleeping together on the first date and trying to figure out how to be your own person in a relationship.

One important factor here: the story is loosely based on Kumail and Emily’s actual relationship, leaving room for some ever important thinking, writing and plotting that makes a movie work. You may have a funny story that’s great to hear at parties but doesn’t translate to screen. That’s fine, but that’s why adaptation is a tricky thing—one that “The Big Sick” does quite nicely.

The story itself flows in the traditional rom-com-y way, and there are a few scenes that feel more important to space-filling than story-moving (“draggy,” as my grandmother labeled it). But to me, Kumail and Emily did a great job of writing scenes in which the characters explore their relationships slowly and naturally, thus leading to believable conclusions when the ends get tied up. Romances, in life and film, need some “unnecessary” scenes to flourish.

Kumail and Zoe Kazan, playing Emily, are utterly delightful, imbuing every scene with an addictive light. The same can be said of pretty much every other character—so little space, so many wonderful actors who should be named—and all these people make the film that much more personable and heartwarming.

Now, there has been a lot of talk about the portrayal of South Asian women in this movie, considering Kumail’s in love with a white chick while his family is trying to set him up with a Pakistani woman. I’m way too white to have a real opinion about it, but I do like Sopan Deb’s piece about it in the New York Times. I don’t want to say “it’s based on a true story so get over it,” because that’s not useful to anyone but we can’t NOT take into account that, yes, this was Kumail’s experience. I’d also point out that most of the Pakistani women felt like real people and not stereotypes (with some exceptions) but, again, who am I to say?

So yes, go see “The Big Sick” and have a nice ol’ time with a refreshingly funny, earnest rom-com and feel the love wash over you.

Grade: B+

Verdict: “The Big Sick” is a delight I wasn’t expecting. It’s funny, sad, heartwarming, and makes me feel like I might learn to enjoy rom-com’s.

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