“Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?” – Emily.
The Big Sick is an independent film in the romantic comedy genre that is loosely based on autobiographical events of the Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily Gordon. It describes their encounter and courtship which results in a complicated romantic interaction due to cultural pressures. When Emily suddenly becomes sick after a temporary split in their relationship, Nanjani spends time with her parents and dramatically reconsiders many aspects of his life.
The film performed surprisingly well critically and financially for an independent low budget production, being nominated for an Academy Award and selected as one of the top movies of the year. One of the movie’s primary themes of identity and clash of cultural values in life and relationships is explored in this paper.
Romantic comedies are known to follow a conventional formula for their plot without significant differences and a predictable outcome. While The Big Sick does have many traditional characteristics of the genre, it takes a unique approach to storytelling. Most of the reviews for the film indicate that it feels realistic, through its plot, character interaction, and emotional portrayal. Despite being a comedy, the movie shows a lot of introspective and delves deeply into serious topics such as the clash of cultural identities and values. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times indicates the struggle of the protagonist “navigating these two seemingly irreconcilable worlds and identities.”
The movie shows a great depth of emotion but also comedic awkwardness that arises amid cultural differences (Dargis). Max Cea of Salon indicates that cultural identity plays a role in romantic interaction because of the inherent human desire for the forbidden. He suggests that it is a reusable but effective plot device for love stories because “what better existential threat than seemingly irreconcilable cultural differences” (Cea).
Alissa Wilkinson from the Vox, states that Kumail attempts to manage the clash of values by compartmentalizing various aspects of his life, but eventually it catches up to him. Moreover, she makes a good point to highlight the film’s individuality, “it’s not a struggle that’s unique to Muslims in America, but it’s also not one we see on screen very often” (Wilkinson). Many other aspects of the film made it sincere and enjoyable, but the internal cultural struggle faced by Kumail made it a far more personal and relatable story than a traditional romantic comedy.
The Big Sick explores how social norms can affect a person who is torn between two cultures and the impact it can have on the people that he cares about. It is a deeply resonating topic for many individuals in the United States who either experienced this phenomenon or know someone who has. At first, Kumail is portrayed as a typical American young man. He lives with a roommate, flirts with women, and is attempting to make it as a stand-up comedian. He embraces his heritage as nothing more as a background for his performances. However, the audience is later introduced to his family. At this point, it is evident that Kumail is forced to take on a different identity. It is an identity that is mostly pretense since he does not want to disappoint his parents.
The difference between Western and Eastern cultures is significant, making it difficult to adapt or combine them. The religious and cultural insights of Kumail’s parents make it impossible for him to lead a normal American life that he wants. Later in the movie, his parents shun him after finding out the truth. Unfortunately, that is the reality of many individuals faced with the difficult choice of immigration. The American lifestyle is desirable for its economic prosperity and opportunity, but at the same time seen as a corrupting force to many traditional and conservative values of various cultures.
I think the movie shows a sincere side of people struggling to balance dual cultures that are so radically different. As one of the critics pointed out, it is most likely a person in such situations is forced to live a double life. Understandably, tension is built up and the individual would feel pressured to lie continuously. Eventually, when the two sides meet, the result creates ultimate chaos and broken relationships that the film so accurately portrays. I have personally witnessed the struggle of cultural adaptation experienced by a close friend. At a youthful age, it is almost inevitable that a person would transition to American culture through lifestyle, even if at home, there was strict adherence to entirely different rules.
One of the strong points of The Big Sick is that it is based on real events and written by those who experienced them. The film has tremendous authenticity in its plot and emotion, which is amplified by fantastic chemistry amongst the actors. The movie manages to competently balance an intricate plot around the complex issues of intercultural identity and life-threatening illness while developing a romance with comedic elements.
The only weak point of the film is its resort to certain clichés of the genre which, as admitted by Nanjani, were included to maintain some cinematic quality to the plot. Overall, The Big Sick is an exceptional film that goes beyond expectations and asks the viewers to consider many prominent issues of interpersonal interaction in modern society.
Cea, Max. “Why the Politically Charged Story of “The Big Sick” Triumphs Where Others Fail.” Salon. 2017. Web.
Dargis, Manohla. “Review: In ‘The Big Sick,’ Comedy Is Hard, Love Harder.” The New York Times. 2017. Web.
Wilkinson, Alissa. “The Big Sick Is One of The Year’s Best Comedies, But It Doesn’t Shy Away from Heavy Topics.” Vox. 2017. Web.