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Film / The Big Sick

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Kumail: So... to fully know I love someone, I have to cheat on them?
Terry: Out loud, it sounds stupid. Eh, it's... yeah, that's terrible advice.

The Big Sick is a 2017 American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Michael Showalter based on the real-life relationship of screenwriters Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon.

Kumail (Nanjiani, basically playing himself) is a stand-up comedian looking to make it big, over the opposition of his traditional Pakistani family, who want to push him into an arranged marriage as soon as possible. However, when he hooks up with a girl named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his shows, and they insist that nothing will ever happen between them again, a tale of heartbreak, self-discovery, family, and the love spread everywhere between unfolds and changes their lives forever.

The film also stars Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, and Adeel Akhtar as Kumail's family and Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily's parents. Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant have supporting roles as Kumail's friends.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Emily's surname is Gardner in the film; in real life it's Gordon.
  • Arranged Marriage: Kumail's parents' marriage was arranged, and his mother Sharmeen keeps trying to set him up with one of these. It's a Running Gag that very much stops being played for comedy after a while.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • In real life, Emily and Kumail never broke up prior to her illness; the real Emily decided that it would be more interesting for the drama to happen to a recent ex-girlfriend than to a casual girlfriend.
    • Two of the most iconic scenes of the film — Terry asking Kumail about 9/11 and Beth defending him at a comedy show — never happened in real life.
    • Emily's actual father never cheated on her mother.
    • The real Emily was indeed in a funk after waking from her coma, but it was more out of being upset at her own body betraying her than lingering bad feelings against Kumail.
  • Business Trip Adultery: Emily's father Terry reveals to Kumail that he had a one-night stand while away from his wife Beth at a conference for teachers. He didn't intend to do so before going, (he points out that a gathering of math teachers is probably the last place on Earth anyone goes to have an affair) and he instantly regretted it and immediately confessed to Beth afterward, but it has been a source of tension between them ever since and they've never been able to talk about it or deal with it. The end of the movie shows the two starting to reconcile.
  • Butt-Monkey: Chris, the third wheel to C.J. and Mary.
  • Call-Back: It's a film written by and starring a stand up comedian - there's no shortage of callbacks:
    • Near the beginning of their relationship Kumail remarks to Emily that his parents met through an arranged date at the movies. When Emily asks what the movie is, Kumail admits that he doesn't know, remarking that he never was curious enough to ask. At the end of the film, as Kumail is leaving for New York, he asks his father what the movie was, and the latter is able to instantly respond with joy, before singing a tune from it and saying that it's his wife's favorite song.
    • The film is Book Ended by Kumail doing stand up gigs which Emily interrupts by shouting "Woohoo!"
  • Calling the Old Man Out: The film's climax. “Why did you bring me here if you wanted me not to have an American life?"
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the film, Emily is out shopping with Kumail when she stumbles and hurts her ankle. It turns out to be the key in correctly diagnosing her illness—and saving her life.
  • Culture Clash: The major source of tension (and humour) in the movie. Kumail wants to pursue stand-up comedy while his parents want him to be a lawyer, and they insist on him being a good Muslim and marrying a Pakistani woman... while he falls in love with Emily.
  • Delayed Family Acceptance: Kumail admits to his parents that not only is he an atheist, breaking from his family's Muslim upbringing, but he is also in a relationship with a white girl named Emily, going against his mother's wishes to arrange a marriage to a Pakistani girl. Both parents try to disown him, but he refuses to accept it. We see at the end Kumail's father giving him some home-cooked food and speaking to him before he leaves for New York, admitting it will take some time for them to process everything, while his mother refuses to acknowledge him from the car.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Deliberately invoked. In an attempt to break the tension during one scene, upon being asked the absurd question of what his stance was on 9/11, Kumail responds in kind with a very tasteless joke about it. When Emily's parents stare at him, he has to quickly clarify that he was only joking and that he fully acknowledges what a horrible tragedy it was. Later, in a milder example, Emily's dad jokes about her coma and she gently rebukes him.
  • I Have No Son!: Kumail's parents try to invoke this. The key word is "try": Kumail refuses to let them kick him out. In the end, it's all but outright stated they're softening up.
  • Jitter Cam: In some scenes, mainly in the scenes between Kumail and Emily.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: It's mentioned several times throughout the movie that Kumail has a relative who was essentially exiled from the family after he married an Irish woman instead of someone of Pakistani descent. Kumail faces similar adversity with the prospect of pursuing a white woman.
  • Mama Bear: Emily's mother, Beth, is portrayed as this throughout the film, first verbally then physically attacking a heckler who accuses Kumail of being a terrorist.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Emily is a deconstruction. She's bubbly, quirky and eccentric, and Kumail chooses her instead of the many Pakistani and Pakistani-American women he's offered, but Emily has her own life and her own free will, doesn't forgive Kumail right away when he first visits her in the hospital, and because she's based on a real person she's not written for the sole purpose of brightening up Kumail's life.
  • Papa Wolf: Terry helps Beth call out the Frat Boy being racist to Kumail.
  • Parents as People: Emily's parents, Beth and Terry, are stressed out and see their marriage fray around the edges. It's revealed that Terry cheated on Beth during a one-night stand, and they haven't talked about it since.
  • Running Gag:
    • Kumail's love for The X-Files comes up in bits throughout the movie. One of his arranged dates brings it up when she arrives to the house, another says in anger that she watched three episodes and found it terrible, Kumail's ringtone is the show's theme song, and in the end credits, he's wearing an X-Files t-shirt in the photo of him and the real Emily.
    • Stereotypes about Muslims being terrorists come up a lot as well. It stops being funny when a racist frat boy begins heckling Kumail about it during a standup gig.
  • Second Act Break Up: Between Kumail and Emily. She finds the photos of the women his mother has been pushing at him, they argue about keeping secrets and revealing their relationship to Kumail's parents, and then:
    Emily: (close to tears) Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?
    Kumail: (quietly) I don't know.
  • Setting Update: The events that inspired the film took place in the 2000's; the film is set in the Present Day.
  • Stylistic Suck: Kumail's one-man show... take one. Most of it's devoted to a painfully detailed description of Pakistani history and the rules of cricket. At the end of the movie, it's turned into something a lot more meaningful. This is opposed to Chris' comedy, which sucks at all times.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Emily and Kumail have a messy breakup, Emily falls dangerously sick and Kumail rushes to her bedside. When she wakes up, he's overjoyed—and she tells him to leave, completely seriously, since the last time they saw each other they'd just been in the middle of a fight. Later, when he visits her with his "bag of devotion", she points out that all the stuff he did—supporting her parents, staying by her bedside, bringing her gifts—happened while she was in a coma, and that she can't be the reason he doesn't have a family. They do end up together in the end, but it takes time—and Kumail moving to New York—for both sides.
  • Those Two Guys: C.J. (Bo Burnham) and Mary (Aidy Bryant). They're constantly at each other's sides and they're consistently supportive of—and snarking on—Kumail.