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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.

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.


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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
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    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: Zoe Kazan, as a professional actress, is more conventionally attractive than Emily V. Gordon.
  • 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.
  • Ill Girl: Emily. She's put into a coma as the doctors run a gauntlet of tests on her.
  • 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.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • 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.
    • As mentioned below, Terry cheated on Beth during a trip. Even though he immediately confessed and Beth supposedly forgave him, it's clear that the incident has left a lasting effect on their marriage.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Terry admits to Kumail in a late night heart to heart that he cheated on Beth at some point in the past. He reflects on how the guilt he felt overwhelmed him immediately and that he confessed it to her immediately afterwards. He notes that, while she took him back, he feels like she never truly forgave him for it.
    • Subverted with Emily and Kumail; Emily mistakenly thinks the discovery of Kumail's box full of photos of Pakistani women is this. Kumail tells the truth that he doesn't even like these women and has had only brief, awkward encounters with them all through his parents, but this revelation of his willingness to keep secrets and that their relationship cannot progress without cutting ties to his family leads Emily to break things off regardless.

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