Ever since The Big Sick premiered to overwhelmingly positive reviews at Sundance, causing a bidding war that was eventually won by Amazon Studios, Kumail Nunjiani and his wife/ cowriter Emily V. Gordon have been doing the press rounds to promote the wide releases of this Judd Apatow-produced Rom-Com. The film tells their real life “meet cute” story which was quickly followed by a dramatic series of events including issues Kumail’s Muslim family had with him dating a white woman, and Emily suffering a lung infection that led to a medically induced coma. While this is certainly a story worth telling, there’s one big problem with The Big Sick and how it’s been promoted: we know Emily lives, and we know they end up together.
Despite much of the tension getting sucked out of the conflict for anyone who follows any major movie sites, there’s still a lot to enjoy in The Big Sick. Nunjiani has always succeeded in comedic supporting roles (particularly on Silicon Valley), so it’s great to watch him take the lead and prove that not only can he carry a film, but one with some real dramatic moments. Zoe Kazan as Emily almost feels typecast after being the object of affection in other offbeat romantic comedies like Ruby Sparks and The F Word, yet still shines in the half of the film that she’s not in a coma. Much of the film centres around Kumail developing a relationship with Emily’s parents played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, an odd couple with strange chemistry that’s emphasized by the extreme circumstances. Hunter is great as always, but Romano is particularly inspired casting, playing the worried dad with both gloom and humour. Following his cokehead turn in HBO’s doomed Vinyl, we could be seeing the beginning of “Romano-ssance” (TM). The cast is rounded out by Bollywood star Anupam Kher as Kumail’s father, Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions) as his obedient brother, and Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live) and Bo Burnham basically playing themselves as Kumail’s comedian buddies.
This is Kumail and Emily’s story (with some dramatic liberties taken), and directing duties were filled by fellow comedian Michael Showalter, yet you can still see Apatow’s fingerprints all over the project. Dealing with illness in the comedy world makes Funny People its closest relation, but there’s a Rom-Com formula here that we’ve seen in 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up as well, which states that the couple must break up in act three before ultimately reconciling. While this is common in almost all Rom-Coms, Apatow likes to add in edgier humour and make things a little more relatable to hide the artifice and prevent scaring the dudes away from the theatre. Apatow also deserves credit for putting together another ensemble cast of familiar faces that still feel fresh. He could have easily gone to his stacked bullpen of bankable friends in the business, but Apatow has always been about supporting new and upcoming talents, and he’s great at picking the right ones to back. Like many Apatow projects, The Big Sick also runs a little longer than necessary, but since he didn’t direct it, it still manages to (barely) come in under two hours.
Another thing that The Big Sick has going for it is a lack of other films of this kind in theatres this summer. With more and more mid-budget films going straight to streaming services, a night out at the movies means your choices are relegated almost exclusively to blockbusters, kids flicks, and broad comedies. Rom-Coms like this which used to offer a good compromise for a date night out are quickly disappearing from the cineplexes, so hopefully this heartfelt flick helps begin to turn the tide back again.