“The Big Sick” is one of those movies that sneaks its way into the theater over the summer, when all the franchises and blockbusters are battling in a death match to see who will triumph at the box office and sticks around because it’s so good and unlike your typical blockbuster. Like “The Way Way Back,” a few years ago, it’s a heartwarming story of people who the viewer can actually picture running into in real life, but with a sting in its tail. As you might expect from the title, it does feature a major character who becomes seriously, well, sick – and if you prefer to remain in doubt over whether they make it to the credits, I’m afraid that this review contains spoilers.
“The Big Sick,” is actually based on a real-life couple, here played by Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani American who works as a Uber driver by day and a struggling (is there any other kind?) comedian at night, and Zoe Kazan, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who is studying to become a therapist. It’s also based on a real-life scenario – the inspirations for this did go through the whole coma thing, which removed my last objection to the movie: that the set-up seemed a bit Hollywoodish. The two meet after Zoe “heckles” Kumail inadvertently by yelling out something positive during his act; he later explains to her that heckling qualifies as either positive or negative. “What if I yelled out something like, “He’s really good in bed,?” she retorts, which sets off a string of adorable banter, dates that aren’t supposed to really be dates, and finally, a misunderstanding surrounding Kumail’s “secret” romantic life. This refers to the fact that his mother is determined to fix him up with a suitable marriage partner and keeps inviting young women over when he’s there having family meals. (Apparently, there are an amazing number of model-worthy women of the desired ethnic origin all free to be vetted by Kumail’s rabidly eager family.) When Kumail explains that he will be shunned by his family if he doesn’t follow the traditional path (marriage and law school), Zoe is conflicted, and the two temporarily part.
Spoiler alert! Act Two involves Kumail giving permission (sort of) for Zoe to be put in a medically induced coma, which does not please her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), but eventually, since there are medical complications, this paves the way for bonding between the three. With Zoe temporarily out of the picture, the zaniness is dialed back a few notches, but her parents soon prove to be almost as eccentric as her. There is a happy ending eventually, although there are enough realistic twists and turns on the way there, that “The Big Sick” never feels saccharine. If a movie revolving around a girlfriend in a coma sounds like this can’t be avoided, the viewer is likely to be pleasantly surprised.