Reel Talk

The Deeply Personal Catharsis of the Big Sick

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Every summer it’s inevitable that the internet is inundated with think-pieces about how unoriginal Hollywood is, and the fact that they just keep telling the same stories over and over. People lament the fact that the box office is dominated by superheroes  and all sorts of other action films, stiffing any sort of creative or original storytelling. I of course find this notion complete and utter bull-crap, but I will say that you can occasionally feel like you’re no longer able to be surprised by films. And then, every now and then, a movie comes along that tells a story so unique, so personal, and so very powerful that you realize the day will never come when there are no more stories left to tell. And The Big Sick is one such film. It’s a story that I technically had heard before, because it’s the true story of the beginning of the relationship between comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon. The two have always seemed to be very open about their story, and it really is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. And that’s just what Judd Apatow thought when he first heard the story, because once he did he decided it needed to become a movie. And, now it has, and it’s one of the most powerful film experiences I’ve had this year.

Like I said, this film tells the story of the blossoming relationship between a Pakistani-American comedian named Kumail and a grad-student named Emily who is trying to become a therapist in Chicago. The two meet when Emily heckles a set Kumail is doing at a comedy club, and they quickly hit it off, leading to a one-night-stand. The two agee that it should be a one-time thing, and end the evening with the intentions of never seeing each other again. Emily is focusing on her education and career and Kumail is working on his comedy career while also dealing with the fact that his family expect him to follow in their footsteps and accept an arranged marriage. Kumail has no interest in the arranged marriage, despite how many Pakistani girls his mother brings over, but he doesn’t seem to see any way around it. However, fate keeps bringing Emily and Kumail together, and despite their logical objections the two continue seeing each other, becoming more of a couple all the time. However, things hit a serious snag when Emily discovers the profiles of all the Pakistani women Kumail has been meeting, and the two have an enormous fight. They break up, and Kumail assumes that he’s going to have to just move on with his life.

However, that’s not the case. Because one night Kumail gets a call from one of Emily’s friends, and is asked to go be with Emily while she’s at the hospital. Apparently Emily has some weird flu or something ,and they need Kumail to drive her home. But when he gets to the hospital he finds that it’s nothing that easy. Emily has some mysterious infection that’s attacking her lungs, and the only course of action is to put her in a medically induced coma. Kumail has to agree to it, and calls her parents to come be with her. Emily’s parents Beth and Terry then arrive at the hospital, not exactly sure why the guy who broke their daughter’s heart is still around. But Kumail can’t get Emily out of his head, and keeps coming back to the hospital, eventually gaining the trust of Beth and Terry. Days pass as the three await some sign that Emily will be okay, while the doctors scratch their heads trying to figure out what’s wrong. Kumail ends up bonding with Beth and Terry, learning more about them and Emily, while finding out that losing Emily was the biggest mistake of his life. And, eventually, the medical conundrum is solved, and Emily is brought out of her coma, to find that the guy she broke up with is suddenly back in her life. The two talk about everything, and Emily in the end can’t bring herself to forgive Kumail, and he prepares to leave Chicago and move to New York with some friends, putting aside both Emily and his judgmental family. And yet, at the end of the film Kumail find Emily attending a stand-up set in New York, the two deciding to give it another shot.

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This movie is an absolute delight. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, because it’s gotten near unanimous praise from both critic and audiences. The genre of the romantic comedy is in a bit of a stagnant period, not really delivering a beloved entry to the genre in quite some time. Until now. Because this movie succeeds on just about every level. It’s delightfully charming, truly funny, features a romance quite unlike any I’ve seen before, and it completely earns all of the emotional development it creates. I feel like this movie would have been more unique than any romantic comedy in years if it had just focused on the whole arranged marriage aspect. It’s a topic that I haven’t really seen examined in American films, and it could have made for a very memorable film. But the movie takes that concept, and makes it even more unique and interesting by the addition of the medical drama aspect of the film. Absolutely every actor in this film nails their part, putting in some career-best performances, and bolstering the remarkably personal and beautiful story that’s being put before us.

Typically this would be the part of these articles where I pick some aspect of the film that fascinated me, and try to expound on it. But there’s going to be something a little different today. Because this film spoke to me in a very specific way, and really moved me in a manner than I didn’t think possible. I want to be more real than I typically am here for a bit. I don’t normally talk about my personal life too often on this website, but this movie has necessitated I do so. Last year we found out that my wife Katie was epileptic. Before that the two of us had been more or less healthy, and had all sorts of plans for what our direct future would be like. But then, things changed. I got a call at work telling me that she had had a very serious seizure, gotten a concussion from hitting her head on a table, and was at a hospital. As far as these things go, it was the best outcome it could have been, and we got several answers to thing, but it wasn’t quite over. Over the last year and half we’ve continued to struggle with her illness, and I’ve twice now had the experience of racing to a hospital to find the person I love unconscious and in an emergency room bed. And it’s one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had. The feeling you have, knowing that the person who is most important to you in the whole world is in pain and there’s nothing you can do, is one of the most helpless and terrifying things a person can feel. The knowledge that you have to just stand by, seeing someone in pain, and being unable to do a thing is horrible. And this film takes that feeling, and that reality, and puts it on display in a way that makes it understandable. When you’re placed in a situation like this, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning, like you’re experiencing something that’s impossible to articulate. I remember getting the feeling that what was happening was unlike anything anyone else had ever been through, and that no one would understand what was happening, and how to help. But this film helps show that that’s not true. People suffer and strive all the time. And they get through it. It’s very easy to go into yourself, to become a ball of worry and sadness, and submit to the pain and fear. But this film helps show that that’s not the way to handle things. We’re all going to experience woe and suffering in our life, and only by accepting help from others, and gaining some form of catharsis can we get past it, and continue on our lives. This is an incredibly impacting and moving film, telling one of the most personal and relateable stories I’ve ever seen, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

 

The Big Sick was written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon, directed by Michael Showalter, and released by Amazon Studios, 2017.

 

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