Classic Review: The Big Sick

Marvel gifted us with a trailer for Shang-Chi this week in what appears to have been a surprise release given the lead actor, Simu Liu’s, frankly adorable reaction on Twitter.

It’s admittedly a pretty rad trailer. I had not been too stoked for a Shang Chi movie for a few reasons. First of all, he’s a character I have barely any comics experience with. Secondly, I think I still–in spite of the quality of WandaVision and Falcon & Winter Soldier–am dreading a possible MCU backslide now that Phase Three has ended. But this trailer turned it around for me. It looks like it carries on the high standard the MCU has set for itself.

And I never ever considered just how badly we needed Awkwafina in the MCU. She’s absolutely perfect for one of those secondary roles as the humorous side character.

But with the coming of the Shang Chi trailer came a wave of new expectations: when might we get an Eternals trailer? Another of the long-delayed MCU movies in the COVID era, Eternals remains mostly a mystery. What will it be about? Of all the cast members we know are involved, who will be the stars?

I had found myself even more down on Eternals than I had been on Shang Chi, actually. But after seeing how great the trailer for the latter looks… surely the former will also be worthy of the franchise it’s joining. Keep that unstoppable train rolling, Kevin Feige!

Also… look. I have to be honest with you: this whole lead-in has all been an extended way of my saying “I watched a movie starring one of the stars of the future Eternals movie!”.

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The Big Sick is a 2017 (yes, really stretching the limits of the word “classic” here, but bear with me) comedy/drama/RomCom/Dramedy starring Kumail Nanjiani as a somewhat fictionalized version of himself. Zoe Kazan plays Kumail’s real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon, and the film is the story of how the two met and ended up together. Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Zenobia Shroff, and Anupam Kher co-star as each set of parents.

Kumail meets Emily after he has finished a stand-up set in their home of Chicago, and the two begin dating/not dating for a while from there. Despite each of their stated reluctance to get into a serious relationship, their affections for each other win out, and they spend several months getting closer.

Unbeknownst to Emily while their relationship grows, Kumail has been keeping her existence a secret from his parents as his mother repeatedly sets her supposedly eligible son up with other Pakistani women in an attempt to create an arranged marriage. This is… NOT what I thought arranged marriages were! So I learned something here. Apparently arranged marriages are more like forced blind dates than they are two families deciding their toddlers will have to get married when they grow up and signing a contract over it.

Kumail has no interest in this arranged dates, but neither does he want to tell his family about Emily, as he worries it will lead to his family shunning him. Of course, this balance can only last so long, as Kumail, for some unexplained reason, keeps a cigar box full of pictures and profiles of the women his parents set him up with out in the open. Emily finds the box one day in his apartment, and drama ensues. Kumail admits he isn’t sure he sees a future with Emily due to his family.

Shortly after their tense break-up, Kumail gets a call explaining that Emily is in the hospital. She is placed in a medically-induced coma as the doctors attempt to isolate and remove an infection in her lungs. While waiting at the hospital, Kumail meets Emily’s parents.

From there, the movie goes an unexpectedly long time without Emily as Kumail bonds with her family and starts blowing off his own so that he can be with them at Emily’s side. I was shocked at how long Emily is written out of the script and the focus shifts.

Given that the movie was co-written by the real-life Kumail and Emily, it’s no great surprise when Emily recovers from her infection after a few weeks and is brought out of her coma. The two, of course, get past their argument and Kumail’s own fears and end up together in New York.

(Oh yeah, there’s also a side story about Kumail’s career as a stand-up comedian. It helps move stuff along)

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That’s the “problem”, such as it is, with any Based On A True Story movie, especially one with this premise: there are not any stakes involved because the viewer can, at worst, intuit the ending. We know Kumail and Emily co-wrote the screenplay, so obviously she doesn’t die from her disease, nor does their break-up last.

It’s weird because, objectively, this movie has flaws. There is a subplot about Emily’s parents’ relationship that adds little to the story. There is a bit of tacked-on drama at the end regarding a move away from Chicago. These two elements combine to make the film a solid fifteen to twenty minutes longer than it needed to be. And this is all on top of the aforementioned problem in knowing how it will all wrap up.

That should bother me more, right? If the movie is based around two separate dramas–will she survive and will they reunite if she does?–and the results of both dramas are known from the start, doesn’t that undercut the whole movie?

And yet…

In a lesser flick, yeah. It definitely would. But what The Big Sick lacks in keeping you on the edge of your seat, it makes up for in wonderful performances detailing the complete range of inter-personal dynamics. The movie pulls off humor and heartbreak and tension beautifully, and every performance is on point.

Who do you even point to as a stand out here? Kumail is funny and charismatic. Zoe Kazan is engrossing and adorable. Holly Hunter is both fierce and warm. Ray Romano is sympathetic and open. The coyness and pride with which Zenobia Shroff plays Kumail’s mother manages to be both charming and cold when it needs to be. Everyone is bringing their A game to this effort.

I was absorbed in this one from very early on, and I never felt like the movie let me out of its grasp. The chemistry between everyone is so damn good, and the story is so heartfelt. I laughed when the movie wanted me to laugh and I [at least almost] cried where it wanted me to tear up. I am admittedly a sucker for flicks like this, and it’s weird that three of my favorite movie genres are “Comic Book”, “Horror”, and “Inter-personal Relationship Dramedy”, I guess. If I can’t watch Spider-Man or Jason, these are the kinds of movies I’d select over, say, a Die-Hard or a The Fifth Element.

Don’t know why I’m picking on Bruce Willis there, but here we are.

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Warts aside, this is definitely a movie I could see bumping up into Perfection territory if I ever watch it again. It’s that powerful for me. Even knowing how it was going to end, I was fully cheering on Kumail and Emily’s journey the whole way. Great flick.


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