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Cinema in Focus: ‘The Big Sick’

2 Stars — Empty

The true-life romance of Pakistani comedian Kumail Nanjiani (self) with his now-wife Emily (Zoe Kazan) has a pervasive emptiness in The Big Sick.

The reasons for that are several, but not the least of which is Nanjiani’s rejection of his Muslim faith and cultural traditions. Having accepted the sexual promiscuity of the American dating life, he quickly takes his new friend to bed. As she leaves in the early morning, Nanjiani jokes that they haven’t had follow-up sex. Emily responds that she is not that kind of girl, she only has sex once on the first date.

Written by Nanjiani with the assistance of screenwriter Emily V. Gordon, the story takes us into the small comedy shop in Chicago, where Nanjiani is attempting to launch his career.

This metanarrative is laced with the chance meeting and developing romance of Nanjiani and Emily. Picking her up by writing her name in the Urdu language of Pakistan, she challenges his pickup line, causing the chemistry to increase.

However, the inevitable conflict between the Pakistani tradition of arranged marriages, a task Nanjiani’s mother takes very seriously, clashes with the love relationship he has formed on his own. It is this struggle that creates the deeper tension of the story.

We won’t spoil how all of this works together, but it is clear by the title of the film that illness is a major part of the adventure. As is often the case, when the one we love is threatened to be taken from us, we enter into a place that is different from normal romance.

It is also in this experience that Nanjiani meets Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). It is in their relationship that we experience both the grace and love around which the film resolves itself.

The disappointments in the film are not only in its immorality but also in its lack of humor. There is an expectation that the life of a comedian, as well as the inclusion of comedian Ray Romano as Emily’s father ,would be filled with laughter.

There are only a few times when the humor rises to more than a smile, however. This is perhaps due to the type of humor Nanjiani does, but it is also due to the overly serious manner in which the story is told. The R rating is well deserved due to language and sexual references, but there is no nudity.


» The chemistry between Nanjiani and Emily is not usual. Did you find their banter believable? Why or why not?

» Depicting his childhood in Pakistan with humor is countered by Nanjiani’s attempt to do a serious one-man play teaching about his home country. Do you think it was this internal conflict that harmed his comedy or did you find him a more complex character because of it?

» The decision of Nanjiani’s mother to reject him as a son because he won’t allow her to arrange his wedding to a Pakistani girl is painful to watch. What do you think will happen in the decades to come, especially when the grandchildren are born?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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