Digital Editor Alex McDonald reviews what may be a game-changing rom-com: The Big Sick

Falls somewhere between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the ant from A Bug's Life on the action hero scale.
Images by Leonard Maltin , Vox

If you walked past me in the street you’d be forgiven for assuming that I’m not one for rom-coms; my wiry goatee, “puffed-out-chest” walk and (most likely) Star Wars t-shirt paint a pretty vivid picture. But at the end of the day, a good film is a good film, regardless of its genre. Rom-coms can be good and Sci-Fi films can be bad (I’m looking at you Battlefield Earth). So, taking genre out of the equation, is The Big Sick good or bad? Neither. It’s great. 

Is The Big Sick good or bad? Neither. It’s great...

Real life love stories aren’t as polished or as clean cut as we are used to seeing on the big screen, and writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon are bringing their awkward, tumultuous love story to life for us. Nanjiani plays himself, a struggling comedian in Chicago battling with the pressures of his family to adhere to Pakistani culture. When he meets Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), their relationship goes from full of life to rocky to comatose (literally).

The biggest strength of The Big Sick is that it does feel real. There is no “movie dialogue”, just well realised characters having real conversations. There are no scenes in which everyone muses on the intricacies of love and life, save for Ray Romano awkwardly trying to explain that love is hard. There are no bold declarations of love, just private, intimate moments that we can all relate to. It’s awkward, it’s bittersweet and it’s endlessly charming.

And its charm exudes in spades from the film’s leads: Nanjiani and Kazan’s chemistry blossoms on screen, which again adds to the realism. They aren’t instantly on the same wavelength after one “woo-hoo” in a comedy club crowd. Nanjiani is perhaps the most unlikely of leading men, but he owns the screen while simultaneously awkwardly trying to fade into the background. Kazan is doe-eyed and completely endearing making it easy for Nanjiani and the audience to fall in love with her. Emily’s parents played by a fiery, determined Holly Hunter and a disoriented, bumbling Ray Romano make for the perfect supporting pair to allow the comedy and drama to flow.

The Big Sick could have all too easily been a tear-jerker: a film that lazily rests on the laurels of tragic illness and a Romeo and Juliet plot line. Yet it does neither of those things. Emily’s sudden illness only hits as hard as it does because the film takes its time to set up its characters and make us actually care. Any tears shed are not jerked from your eyes, they are earned; your heart strings aren’t tugged by the film, they are willingly along for this soulful ride. 

A lot of credit for this film’s success must go down to director Michael Showalter

While the writing is excellently down to earth, a lot of credit for this film’s success must go down to director Michael Showalter. He deftly balances the tone between comedy and drama, his camera keeping a respectful distance at all times, allowing the comedy and drama to flourish naturally. He handles the transition between the relative chaos of an overbearing family meal with the very real quiet chaos of a hospital waiting room without feeling like they are part of two separate films; he simply makes them part of life. Showalter is not trying to reinvent the wheel with The Big Sick, he merely sands down the rough edges to make the film run as smoothly as it can. It is the perfect Judd Apatow film (who is a producer here) in that it is equally as heart-warming, with half an hour off of its run time and therefore less time for meandering improv.

If I was pressed to find any flaws with this undeniably brilliant film, I would have to say that it eventually becomes predictable in its unpredictability. The Big Sick is committed to diverting the story when you feel like the tracks are fixed, making it a little easy to see the bait and switch coming the third time around. That’s not to say that it detracts from the enjoyment of the film, far from it, it is still a refreshing movie experience that is still emotionally rich and rewarding despite my incessant nit-picking.

Verdict:  Move over When Harry Met Sally…, I have a new answer to “what’s your favourite rom-com?” The Big Sick is everything you could ask for in a rom-com: it is funny throughout, dramatic when it needs to be and altogether refreshingly real. Romano’s Terry might remark that he doesn’t like the internet because it hates Forrest Gump, but it certainly seems to love this film. I endeavour you to see and support The Big Sick, the future of the rom-com depends on it.

Rating: 8/10