When stand-up comedian Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is heckled by graduate student Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his shows, it leads to a flirtation, which leads to a one-night stand – and then, unexpectedly, to something more serious. But their blossoming relationship is about to hit two major roadblocks.
The first is Kumail’s parents, first-generation Pakistani immigrants who dote on their son but are determined that he will have a traditional arranged marriage. And the second is a mysterious illness which lands Emily in hospital, in a medically induced coma. As he waits anxiously by her side and wrestles with his doubts about their relationship, Kumail forms a bond with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) which will change everything.
The Big Sick seems to be the little movie that could, punching above its weight in terms of box office (it attained the year’s highest per-theater average on its US release) and critical reception (it currently stands at an impressive 98% at Rotten Tomatoes). A combination of warm reviews and word-of-mouth are sending the message: go and see this film.
It’s a message worth heeding. Based on the love story of Nanjiani and his real-life wife, Emily Gordon (and co-written for the screen by the pair), The Big Sick finds freshness, warmth and humanity in an often tired genre. Its characters feel real, its situations funny and painful by turns. The film rambles a little – a frequent vice of Judd Apatow comedies – but the people we’re spending time with are so likeable that it hardly matters.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Are you a fan of romantic comedies in general? How does The Big Sick compare with classics of the genre?
- What did you think of the way Kumail and Emily’s relationship developed from their first meeting? Did you find them a believable couple? What makes us root for their relationship?
- What do each of them want from life, and from each other, at the beginning of their relationship? How do their motivations change as the film goes on?
- How did you react to Kumail’s family, and to his parents’ quest to find him a Pakistani wife? Did the film go far enough – or too far – in presenting their actions here as sympathetic? What might be some of the pros and cons of arranged marriage?
- What did you find interesting or refreshing about the way in which the film portrayed its Muslim and Pakistani characters? What role does humour play? In what ways are characters like this often stereotyped, and why is it important to break these stereotypes?
‘You don’t really see a lot of Asian men as romantic leads particularly. I mean, we have Asian leads in action movies and stuff, but we haven’t seen romantic leads.’ – Kumail Nanjiani
- What drives Kumail to leave behind his parents’ religion, and to turn down the option of an arranged marriage? What might be the potential costs and benefits when we opt out of our family’s culture, religion or traditions? Is it possible for family relationships to stay strong when this happens?
- How is Kumail changed by his relationship with Emily’s parents? What lessons does he learn from their marriage? How important is the wider family when it comes to romantic relationships?
While the Western conception of marriage is more romantic, it ignores the idea of two families getting together. That’s why the success rate is higher for arranged marriages – you go in with the understanding that love doesn’t just sprout; it’s something you build and work on. – Kumail Nanjiani
- What eventually enables Kumail to overcome his fears and commit to Emily? How might it change all of our relationships if we treated them as something to ‘build and work on’?
- Did you know that The Big Sick was based on a true story, and does this knowledge affect your perception of the film? What might it have been like for Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon to write a screenplay based on their own experiences? Are there any episodes in your life which you think would make a good film?