Hot Take: A much needed successful romantic comedy in a genre desperately lacking anything worth talking about. One of the best movies of the first half of the year. Kumail Nanjiani gives a heartfelt and heartwarming performance as, well, himself.
Every summer, there is a smaller flick that sneaks up on us and “wins” the summer. I put wins in quotations because with the monster box office numbers of some of the summer tentpoles, it obviously doesn’t win as that is reserved for juggernauts usually involving superheroes (See the box office figures for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming). Last year, the best example was Hell or High Water. The early August release with a tiny $12 million budget more than tripled that at the box office and carried a solid summer performance to 4 Academy Award nominations. A similar path could be in store for The Big Sick, the 2017 romantic comedy based on the real life love story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. It’s already drawing at the box office in limited release and is slated for a monster 2,500+ theater expansion this weekend.
In The Big Sick, Kumail (played by himself) is a struggling stand-up comedian in Chicago who spends his time between gigs working as an Uber driver and fending off meetings with Pakistani women who his mother introduces him to in an attempt to continue the tradition of arranged marriages in the Pakistani culture. After a gig, Kumail introduces himself to Emily (Zoë Kazan) who called out during his stand-up performance. The pair hit it off and Emily ends up going home with Kumail but the two agree to never see each other again as Emily says she isn’t ready for a relationship. Despite their intentions, the pair becomes a couple until Emily finds out about the pressure Kumail is under from his family to accept a Pakistani woman as his bride and that his family is completely unaware of their budding relationship. After they break up, Emily becomes sick and her friend calls Kumail to check on her at the hospital. While there, Emily is put into a medically induced coma as a mysterious illness devastates her immune system. Kumail then meets Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) and despite some initial resistance, the three become close as they wait for Emily to recover.
The Big Sick is exactly what you’d expect from a romantic comedy and it wins extra points for being based on a true story although the film obviously takes a number of dramatic detours. The core of the story, though, is true including Emily’s medically induced coma and the way it impacts Kumail’s feelings for her as he desperately waits for her to recover. The film is touching, the characters are easy to like and, as with any successful rom com, you find yourself rooting for the pair to get together. It may have been better if you didn’t know the outcome as there would be some doubt in whether the relationship will ever work out but there’s still plenty of positive things to say about The Big Sick.
It’ll be interesting to see how well The Big Sick does upon wide release. The timing feels right for it to take off as there is very little like it playing right now. While it faces stiff competition against War for the Planet of the Apes opening and Spider-Man: Homecoming in its second week, there are no other comedies in its way (The House collapsed and Despicable Me 3 is a different audience) nor much on the romantic front unless you count Baby Driver. Already having grossed almost $7 million in just 366 theaters, this week’s expansion could see The Big Sick really take off. Let’s hope it does as this is one that deserves all the success it can manage.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
The spot at the table typically reserved for Nanjiani is wisecracking bit part. Heck, before The Big Sick, a supporting role would have been a stretch. In The Big Sick, Kumail proves he is a bit rangier than previous roles indicate. Call The Big Sick his Trainwreck moment.
- Where Have All the Good Rom Coms Gone?
The Big Sick is a reminder of a time when there was a boom in this genre. Currently, we’re smack dab in the middle of the “Golden Age” of superhero flicks which has helped contribute to the glut of smaller romantic comedies but has also created the perfect storm for this film to have a big box office performance relative to its obviously small budget.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Film Might Be Guilty of Meandering
In an effort to capture all of the magic of their relationship, The Big Sick meanders a little as it progresses to its inevitable conclusion. Reading the real life version of their relationship, you get the idea Emily’s illness caused a whirlwind of a courtship yet the film gives off a different vibe. Maybe this was an effort to separate reality from fiction but it also hurts the pacing of the film and keeps a very good film from being great.