The Big Sick is a partially biographic drama about a relationship across cultural
barriers. Kumail (played by himself, Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani Muslim living in the USA. He is a taxi driver and aspiring comedian whose family expects him to become a lawyer and marry a good Pakistani girl. But Kumail continues to pursue stand-up comedy, and he starts a romantic relationship with Emily (Zoe Kazan), a white American girl from a fairly traditional family. Conflict ensues.
On the one hand it is Kumail’s own ‘Americanisation’ that clashes with his family’s traditional demands regarding culture, profession and religion. On the other, when Emily becomes gravely ill and is put into an induced coma, the battle moves to that between Kumail and Emily’s parents. In the latter scenario the white American prejudice against Middle Eastern Muslim is brought to the fore.
The Big Sick is told from an American perspective. It is free choice and self-actualisation that wins out in the end. Score for Westernisation. But, equally, in this film shallow American prejudice against ‘the other’ is subverted. A typical view of fanatic Muslims is undermined, mostly through the use of humour. For example, when Kumail is sent to the basement to do his ritual prayers he watches videos instead. And when Kumail’s mother banishes him from the family for pursuing a forbidden relationship, she struggles to keep up her angry façade, sending him cookies while at the same time refusing to speak to him.
The best part about The Big Sick is the relationships. That between Kumail and his family (which remains loving and gentle despite the differences), between Kumail and Emily (which is a bantering, natural relationship), and between Kumail and Emily’s parents (in which humour breaks down the barriers). The real feel of the Kumail/Emily romance may be because the story is biographical.
The Big Sick is a warm, funny, humanly complex and very watchable film. It opens at cinemas in South Africa on 6 October 2017.