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Film Review: The Big Sick

23 August 17 words: Alicia Lansom

We went to see if Kumail Nanjiani's new rom-com offered anything new to the genre...

The Big Sick begins as most romantic comedies do, sweeping shots of a city landscape as the protagonist drives around to the beat of a catchy pop song. But although starting with a cliche, the nature of the story contains a few more twists and turns than you might expect of a typical Judd Apatow film.

That’s because this film is based on a true story, and as we know, true love never did run smooth. Written by the lead actor Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon, the story explores the turbulences of their real life relationship. But despite the story revolving around a romance, the big takeaways from the film surround the clashing and coming together of different cultures in modern society.

At the centre of the story is charismatic Kumail, a struggling stand-up comic originally from Pakistan who leads a complicated life navigating around his traditional Muslim background and his life in Chicago. His difficulties are shown most prominently by his mothers hilarious insistence to find him a girlfriend through a conveyor belt of blind dates, to which he always says no.

But his lack of a girlfriend (and lack of a beard) isn't the only concern his family has, it’s also his choice of a job. A familiar feeling for anybody working in the arts, he is pressured to find a ‘real career’, but despite this he continues to pursue his dream of making it to Montreal Comedy Festival. At one of his practice gigs is where he meets Emily, which leads to what can only be described as the most accurate representation of ‘Netflix n Chill’ ever portrayed on screen.

The situation is only made worse by the fact that when Emily orders her Uber to escape the after-sex awkwardness, Kumail is assigned as her driver, (which he does to pay the bills) leading to a very funny and awkward journey home.

This is the blossoming of their relationship, but family bonds become the breaking point of their love affair. Emily eventually grows suspicious about not meeting Kumail’s family and he admits to her that to them dating a white woman isn't acceptable, meaning there is no real future for them together.

This comes as a shock to Emily, but in our multicultural dating world it is often a reality many couples have to face. Regrettably they agree to never speak again, which works fine until Kumail receives a phone call saying that Emily is in the hospital. With no next-of-kin available the doctors ask Kumail to sign a document allowing them to put her in a medically-induced coma. He is then forced to meet his ex-girlfriends parents over the phone and let them know that their daughter is in a critical condition.

The scenes featuring Emily’s Dad (played by Ray Romano) bring a welcomed unintentional humour into the film, shown best by his male-bonding with Kumail over whiskey, pizza and a shared fear for someone they love. Emily’s parents parallel Kumail’s by inflicting an equal amount of love and problems into their child's life, showing Kumail that families are difficult regardless of religion or culture.

As time goes on, Kumail’s relationship with his family becomes more strained which eventually causes him to reveal his ambiguity with religion and his unwillingness to commit to an arranged marriage. This film portrays two generations clashing over beliefs and values, but importantly shows both perspectives in equally negative and positive lights.

Regardless of your cultural background the idea of ‘owing’ your family for supporting you is highly relatable, and sometimes giving back to them can take the form of a well paid job or in this case, a relationship with a certain person.

This film highlights the struggle that many young people face trying to assert their own independence while trying to remain respectful of family traditions. I think to broach the subject of how these relationships can bring both value and hindrance to our lives was both refreshing and needed in a world full of Hollywood happy families. This film has no heroes, but it shows us that living your life according to your own rules is essential for a happy self, and that the people who truly love you will support that no matter what.

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