The Big Sick

 

            This is one of those small-scoped indie movies that has a certain charm, but don't put too much weight on it. The delicate combination of humor, romance, and pathos is fragile enough.

            Kumail Nanjiani (basically playing himself) is a Pakistani-American who's also a part-time Uber driver and a moderately successful stand-up comic.  He plays at a comedy club in downtown Chicago, where his roommate and a couple of other friends are also stand-ups.  They all struggle with the constant search for fresh material, and they strive mightily to be both supportive of each other and honest with each other (usually a standing contradiction).

            Kumail's parents are traditional Pakistanis, who have immigrated to the United States, but still stubbornly cling to some of their traditional ways, including the strong expectation that Kumail will marry a nice Muslim girl of Pakistani ethnicity.  Since their culture still practices arranged marriages, Kumail's parents are constantly introducing him to suitable, eligible single women, who “just happen to be dropping by the neighborhood.”  Kumail endures all this with no intention of ever following up, because he's become thoroughly American in one respect:  he wants to pick his own girlfriends.  And he wants someone he's attracted to, not someone his parents think might be acceptable for him.

            Enter Emily (Zoe Kazan).  She happens to be in his audience one night, and after meeting her afterwards he's immediately smitten.  And so is she.  They do the modern American thing----hook up immediately.  But then she says he doesn't need to bother to call her, and he says that's fine with him.  Except neither, at that point, are saying what they're feeling.  And that, ultimately, is what causes their big rift----she hasn't told him exactly how much she's started caring, and he hasn't told her anything about his family's intractable expectations.

            And then she gets sick.  And her best friend wants Kumail to know about it, and he dutifully goes to the hospital, where he meets her parents, for the first time.  And they don't want anything to do with him.  Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter) have heard all about how Kumail and Emily couldn't settle their differences, and they don't feel he needs to be there now that'she's really sick.

            But a funny thing happens to all these characters.  They have to adjust to new realities.  But somehow the bouyant comedic part of this movie keeps it all from crashing of its own emotional weight.  We want to like Kumail because he's trying so hard, and because he still has to occasionally deal with racist taunts from ignoramuses who are unable or unwilling to distinguish different nationalities. (Though there's a rebuttal irony to casting several Pakistani characters who are actually of Indian origin.)

            This one is both tender and funny, and as infuriatingly maladroit as any dysfunctional family, no matter whose ethnicity.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  How did you meet your significant other?  Was it “arranged” or accidental?

2)                  What cultural differences can be readily overcome by romance, and which cannot?

3)                  In evaluating the potential of a relationship, how important is parental blessing?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association