From Jenny Slate’s desperately underrated Obvious Child to the wit and woe of The Skeleton Twins, American indie cinema has had a lot to say about modern romance in recent years. With the huge success of Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix series Master of None and more recently the deeply cynical comical tragedy Friends from College, we find ourselves in a new world of Annie Hall-esque romantic comedy, on both the big and small screen; all of which are consumed with not so much tragedy as they are reality. Joining the pack is The Big Sick written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon and based on their own life experience and love story. Nanjiani stars as himself alongside actor Zoe Kazan in Emily’s role. A three month relationship turns sour when Kumail and Emily confront their cultural differences. When Emily falls dangerously ill, Kumail finds himself in the daily company of Emily’s plucky mother and father – awkwardly by their sides through the traumatic experience, sitting uncomfortably with one another in hospital waiting rooms. Spending time with the couple begins as socially painful but quickly turns into something more which forces Kumail to consider his mistakes, his cultural conflicts and his true feelings. We first meet Kumail on a stage – a struggling stand up comedian who funds his craft as a part time Uber driver. Emily is there and confronted by Kumail after the show because she heckled him. What follows is a relationship, stemming from casual sex, casual dating and, a casual movie night – the three magic steps on the journey of romantic modernity. There are laughs to be had when watching Kumail endure weekly family dinners where his mother repeatedly arranges for available Pakistani women to ‘drop in’, in desperate hope that Kumail will eventually take a Pakistani wife.
His parents’ desire for him to settle within his own ethnic culture is initially amusing, in stark contrast to the fully-westernised life Kumail leads which involves dating white women and setting a five minute timer on his iPhone when instructed to go and pray by his mother. These culture clashes begin as lightly humorous but eventually become more serious. They eventually must be honestly confronted by Kumail, Emily and his family as he re-evaluates what he as an individual believes, wants and needs in his life. The Big Sick challenges typical aspects of marriage, parenting and commitment through both Emily and Kumails’ parents and is at its best when doing so. There is so very much to like about The Big Sick, despite, sadly, all the best lines being in the trailer. The film’s absolute shining light comes in the form of both Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as the parents of Emily who are under the stress of their daughter’s sudden health decline but also the strains of their own damaged marriage. They are perfectly cast and in a way the film’s downfall as I ultimately found myself caring more about their relationship than the central one. My criticisms are rather pernickety when one considers the importance and originality of The Big Sick. It is such a joy to see an interracial relationship unpicked and explored in this way. I desperately hope that we continue to see diverse, realistic, multi-cultural representation in our cinemas and perhaps soon this will more equally share the room with women of colour – a demographic both studio and independent cinema continue to overlook and under-represent.
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