July. It's the middle of the summer, full of the latest chapters in our favorite blockbuster franchises (or in the case of Transformers, just a blockbuster franchise). Yet Amazon Studios, smack dab in the season, decided to drop their latest wide release: The Big Sick.
The Big Sick is based on a true experience by comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who is probably best known for his role in the HBO series Silicon Valley--and who stars in and co-wrote this film. In the film, he meets a girl named Emily (Zoe Kazan, It's Complicated) at one of his stand-up shows, and a romantic relationship blossoms. Though they both clearly love each other, there is a problem. His Muslim Pakastani parents insist on arranged marriage to a good Muslim Pakistani girl, and they obviously wouldn't approve of Emily, a white American girl. This proves to be a breaking point in their relationship. Before Kumail can fully move on, Emily goes into a coma, and he goes through this crisis situation with her parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter in show-stealing roles (Romano's bits in the promo material convinced me to see it, and I was not at all disappointed).
Walking out of this film, I reflected on the fact that this was a very sweet and honest romantic dramedy. It was sweet in the characters' chemistry. I enjoyed watching the flirtations of Emily and Kumail, even if I didn't laugh as much as I probably was supposed to. I loved even more seeing Kumail and Emily's parents interact, as there was plenty of hilarious tension (given the awkward circumstances of their first meeting). And though it was a sweet film, it never delved into sentimentality. As for the honesty, I thought about why I felt it was so. Perhaps it was its basis on a true story. But there have been plenty of biopics and "based on a true story" films that feel as hackneyed and formulaic as the rest. I think the reason it felt honest was at the heart of it: the characters. Everybody felt fleshed out; in fact, these are probably the most organically and completely developed characters I've seen in a film so far this year. Everyone has a story that lets us empathize with them. Kumail has his family drama and his relationship drama, but he also has his ambitions as a comic while dealing with his doubts of faith. Emily's parents have their history that fleshes them out, and it's both sweet and hilarious to find out their tensions and how they met. Even the comic relief characters--fellow aspiring comics played by Bo Burnham and SNL's Aidy Bryant--are fleshed out more than your average tertiary character and feel like genuine buddies. (It's also worth noting that despite the irony of my usage of the term "comic relief" in the context of a review of a comedy, it makes perfect sense.)
Despite being entertaining, funny, and all the aforementioned qualities, the film is still more than that. It's a movie about true love, as Kumail selflessly does all he can to make sure Emily comes out of it even though he probably shouldn't have any stake in her well-being. It's about cultures clashing as Kumail finds himself in between traditional Islam and the American way. It's about relationships healing amidst crisis, as Kumail's identity crisis threatens to cut him off from everyone he loves, and Emily's parents struggle with conflict in their marriage. It's mostly funny, but also has scenes of impactful drama, scenes I'm still thinking about. It's also something I wouldn't hesitate to watch again, and something I hope you don't miss, whether in theaters now or on Amazon Video later this year.