“The Big Sick” successfully places a heartfelt interracial romance front and center

Justin Jones

After years of being “that guy” who shows up in movies for a few minutes and leaves, comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s newest film “The Big Sick,” provides his first ever leading role in the semi-autobiographical story of how he met his wife.

The Pakistani-born Nanjiani co-wrote the movie with his American-born wife, Emily Gordon, played by Zoe Kazan. Ostensibly a romantic comedy, the film plays with themes of discrimination, marriage difficulties, the sickness of a loved one, and cultural and racial differences.

The first act of the film focuses primarily on the budding relationship between Nanjiani and Emily Gardner (renamed for the film) and the way they handle the differences in their backgrounds. For these first thirty minutes or so it is a perfectly fine romantic comedy, but the most unique aspect is that it shows a multidimensional interracial romance on the big screen.

When Emily develops a life-threatening illness and her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) come to take care of her, “The Big Sick” really kicks into gear. A good chunk of the movie’s mid-section is without one of the leads, but Romano and Hunter’s chemistry with each other and Nanjiani proves both immensely entertaining and moving.

On the surface, the parents are what one would expect, worried and protective of their comatose daughter. But the longer Nanjiani spends with them, their layers begin to peel back, revealing unexpected levels of depth for both of them.

Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is sharp throughout, knowing when a joke is needed to lighten the mood, and when to let a dramatic moment speak for itself—it's a tough wire to walk, but the pair make it look effortless. It will sometimes go long stretches, north of ten minutes, without a single joke, but the focus on emotion rather than cheap laughs leads to an engaging story that feels wholly original.

A film that can shift from gut-busting hilarity to devastating melancholy within minutes requires a cast that can handle drama and comedy in equal measure, and the supporting cast here has this in spades. Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant and a cast of lovable friends and family including beloved Indian actor Anupam Kher absolutely shine. Every actor in this film is perfectly cast and does a perfect job, even those who only appear for a few minutes.

The same praise cannot be applied to director Michael Showalter, who made more than a few mistakes. Though small editing goofs appear in films of all kinds—even “La La Land,” last year’s Oscar-winner for best direction—few movies have as many distracting mistakes as “The Big Sick.” Frequently, the camera cuts to another angle in the middle of a sentence, leaving the actor’s words improperly synced, sometimes at a different volume.

Had this only happened once, it would be forgivable, but this issue plagues the film’s entire runtime, leaving it with a sloppy-directed and poorly-edited feel. It is truly a shame, because every other aspect of this movie shines, and deserves a better final product.

Despite these issues, “The Big Sick” is a winner. The perfect script and the wonderful cast make it worth seeing, as well as one of the best films of 2017.

“The Big Sick”

Rating: R

Runtime: 119 minutes

Score: 4/5 stars