The Big Sick is the kind of magical little movie that’s a gateway drug to cinephilia. It’s fresh, raw and unapologetically joyful. And that the love story is straight out of the personal history of co-writers Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan) and Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) makes it all the more charming.
The Big Sick follows Kumail — a struggling stand-up in Chicago who feels pressure from his family to enter an arranged marriage and abandon his dreams — as he meets a woman, Emily, he never expects to change his life, but who forces him to reevaluate everything. Their relationship challenges both of their world perceptions, but it’s not until after Kumail has made a dire misstep and Emily is struck with unexpected illness that the story blooms into something entirely new. As Kumail comes to the realization of what he has lost, possibly forever, he gets to know Emily’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) under the most awkward circumstances imaginable. We watch as he navigates life and love and family and dreams. And spelling all of that out, The Big Sick sounds like a garden variety romance, but the reality couldn’t be farther from the assumption.
Where tradition would call on sweeping gestures and swelling music, The Big Sick leans on vulnerability and a distinct lack of polish. It’s an intimate story that soars on Nanjiani’s relentless dedication to showing the best and worst of his own love story. Oh yeah, and those turns from Ray Romano and Holly Hunter? Incredible. Romano manages to shake off his whole persona to play a different kind of father, while Hunter walks a thin line of wild emotion that evokes the raw nerve that is the experience of spending night and day worrying over a sick loved one.
The buzz around The Big Sick has been so relentless that I felt a wave of concern wash over me as I entered the theater — what if I was expecting too much? What if it was good, but not exceptional? What if I was the only one who didn’t get it? Well, past me, The Big Sick is all you hoped for, and more. It’s the indie gem of the summer and the beating heart that reminds you what cinematic joy is. It’s also one hell of a story.