THE BIG SICK made me feel better / by Brenna Proczko

Coming into the theater, back when we saw The Big Sick in July, I had a moment where I thought the seat was going to break and drop me to the floor (probably not entirely: I'd end up sandwiched between the seat back and bottom cushion, pinned awkwardly askew and later finding a weird bruise near my armpit). It's an older theater, the seats squeak; it's not an unreasonable fear. But the seat held, as seats are in fact supposed to do, and was even pleasantly cushy. Heck, I've even gone back to that theater for more.

 Holly Hunter, please be my mom. But, like, while I still get to keep my actual mom. Maybe just every other weekend? #coparenting

Holly Hunter, please be my mom. But, like, while I still get to keep my actual mom. Maybe just every other weekend? #coparenting

This is as good a metaphor as any for the way my expectations were met and exceeded by THE BIG SICK (which I've watched twice more since it became available to stream). Kumail Nanjani wrote it with his wife Emily V. Gordon (they've since won an Independent Spirit Award for the screenplay) about getting together with his wife, and even plays a character with his own name, so it's basically just a dramatic reenactment.* But if I could get Holly Hunter to play my mom, I'd probably be writing scripts about my romance, too.    

The main reason I worried that the seat of this movie (if you will) would drop out from under me is that just before its release, Nanjiani posted a long thread about his love for Four Weddings and a Funeral. And I, too, love FWAAF, quote it incessantly with my mom and sister ("It's bloody Brigadoon!"), and so my expectations were just a little bit higher - I miss the Richard Curtis, Rob Reiner, and Nora Ephron days of romantic comedy. I cannot get into the late '90s/'00s era of fashionista and klutzy-meet-cute-then-contrived-break-up-then-big-reconciliation-on-bridge movies that were not that comedic nor, I felt, very romantic. 

Luckily, The Big Sick is both. Nanjiani's comedy (he plays himself) as a stand-up in the film (and his comic friends who grin at their own jokes) is funny, Zoe Kazan is funny as Emily ("I love when men test me on my taste."), Hunter and Ray Romano - as Beth and Terry Gordon - are hilarious (see: the scene where Romano tells his giraffe joke and watch Hunter in the background). Nanjiani makes the scenes with his family funny without making his Muslim parents, who want to arrange a marriage for him with a nice Pakistani girl, the butt of the joke. That generosity extends to the women Kumail's mother keeps inviting to "just drop by" at dinners - they could have been made into punchlines (as happens in another Hugh Grant movie, Notting Hill - remember the fruitarian? ugh.) but instead we get women who gamely watch The X Files and know magic!

 It's Vella Lovell, aka Heather from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I love her!

It's Vella Lovell, aka Heather from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! I love her!

And the main kicker is that Emily is in a coma for at least half of the film, yet you still feel the romance between her and Kumail is legit. Importantly, the relationship of Emily's parents is a secondary factor (the way you see them follow what are clearly well-trod fight avenues, the warm glow you get when you see them snuggle), and even the way that Kumail's dad supports and speaks for his wife shows another kind of valuable romance. You might not always agree with your partner, but you still have to be on the same side. Because LOVE.

Let's not forget: The angst of Emily when she finds the box of pictures; Kumail's reluctance to confront his parents and resulting emotional explosion in his apartment; Terry's late-night confession to Kumail; the stressed sequences in the hospital; Emily's reaction to Kumail when she wakes up. So maybe this is a romantic dramedy (not unlike FWAAF now that I think about it - I mean, there is a very sad fucking FUNERAL in that movie; thankfully, not in this one).

The key here is that it does all those things well, and director Michael Showalter does all the actors a service in simply letting them breathe and do their thing. The editing is never too frantic and there are not excessive close-ups; in fact, the times when the camera goes wide enough to show you three or five characters, or makes you feel like you're in the audience watching some stand-up, it gives a refreshing perspective but also rewards repeated viewing. It's not forcing you to watch a reaction or a speech - it lets you choose which to watch each time, and I think the performances and feelings are better for it. 

 Aww, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful dramedy.

Aww, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful dramedy.

So if you like feeeeeeelings (but not too many) and also jokes (but maybe not slapstick, that's pretty absent here), then you should watch this movie. Maybe with someone you like.  

*Actually it seems like they changed several things; they didn't break up before she got sick, her dad has never cheated on her mom, etc.