Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. The Big Sick is the new romantic comedy from director Michael Showalter and producer Judd Apatow. It’s the based-on-a-true story of Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) and his complicated courtship with writer/producer Emily V. Gordon (here Emily Gardner, played by Zoe Kazan). When their one-nighter turns into something more serious, Kumail is caught between his own affections and the orders of his strict Pakistani Muslim parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who expect him to follow tradition and accept an arranged marriage. Matters are made worse when a mysterious illness puts Emily into a medically-induced coma and forces Kumail to choose a path: walk out of Emily’s life forever or prove his worth to her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and stay by her side until she wakes up.
Adam: In this clip, Kumail has one of his first of many awkward interactions with Emily’s parents - this time about 9/11:
It’s a very funny scene that represents many other scenes in The Big Sick, which greatly benefit from some really adept comedic performances from a deadpan Nanjiani, a sweet but dim Ray Romano and a prickly Holly Hunter. Unlike some previous Judd Apatow productions that felt heavily improvised, this one feels more focused and scripted, which helps it not wander as much as some earlier, messier (but more often than not still funny) Apatow films. I feel like an enormous dick saying this, but the straight comedy elements of The Big Sick are why I enjoy it. The heart and soul of the movie are what I feel less sure-footed about in my praise of the film. It’s a weird position because I feel like I’m reviewing someone’s life more than a movie, so I’ll tread lightly. I am still recommending The Big Sick, though. I laughed a lot during this movie.
Rob: Watching The Big Sick was a bit surreal for me. While I’m not much of a Silicon Valley guy, I am a huge fan of Kumail and Emily from their podcasts (The Indoor Kids, The X-Files Files, Harmontown, etc.) and have heard them tell the crazy story of their relationship a number of times before. Even with that said, I was absolutely delighted by The Big Sick, which functions both as a quality story in its own right and a loving deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes and clichés. It’s clear that Emily and Kumail (who co-wrote the screenplay) know rom com structure inside and out, and it’s that knowledge of story (as well as Showalter’s disciplined direction) that makes the film stand apart from its peers. These are realistic people in realistic situations. There are archetypes, but no real caricatures. There’s a meet cute, but it’s kind of ugly. There are second act misunderstandings, but not in the way we usually see them. There are dramatic declarations of love, but rarely do they produce the desired result. It’s quality stuff that’s well worth your time.
Rob: It makes total sense to me that Romano would be your stand-out performance, as it probably makes total sense to you that Holly Hunter is mine. In a worse movie, this is the bigoted, sneering, bitter antagonist who digs in her heels and rejects Kumail for the most superficial of reasons, but not here. She’s simply defending her daughter (she knows all the horrible things Kumail has said and done) and is absolutely open to changing her mind once he has a chance to convince her. She’s smart, a bit bruised, and really elevates the film beyond the “Pakistani Muslim guy wants to date a white American girl and oh no…9/11 jokes,” etc. She’s got moxie, I tell ya. I loved her a lot. I totally agree about Ray Romano, though. His monologue about infidelity is really heartbreaking and raw. Honestly, everything about The Big Sick is heartbreaking and raw.
As to your other point, I actually thought this WAS about them winning over the family, just not in the way we usually see. I like that it wasn’t a “love conquers all” plot that over-romanticized a life-threatening illness. It even comments on how we feel like everything should be different after a serious event like this, but that things rarely actually change. I also thought that the parts that could have easily been dramatized for a film adaption were left relatively true to life. There are no obnoxious moments where he’s forced to prove he’s THE ONLY ONE WHO TRULY UNDERSTANDS EMILY and that everyone else is wrong. It never feels constructed for story convenience. It’s never lazy.
The short answer is that I would have been a lot less interested in this film if it were about two people from different cultures who agree on everything and could be together forever if only they could convince their parents that racism is bad.
Adam: I agree with most of your points above (except the last one because I think the rocky relationship story is easier to do than one where a couple isn’t fighting imho), but I don’t really feel like passionately defending my position with The Big Sick. I liked it and think I’ll watch it on cable similar to other Apatow movies from the past, but I think I’m just a muted appreciator of The Big Sick. I have grown used to the formula of his movies, so I think I would have been a bigger fan of The Big Sick if it came out around the same time as Knocked Up. I’m absolutely giving it a Mark Ahn though and recommend it to really anyone, especially as a date movie. I have failed you in this review. Sorry, bud.
Rob: I just wanted to say that I loved the way the film handled these weird little breaches of intimacy that come up in real relationships all the time, especially with Kumail’s interactions with Ray Romano’s character. I love that Romano opens up to him about his struggles in his own marriage. Nothing is ever portrayed as simple. I also love (and would have loved more of) the way Kumail’s parents genuinely seem to be good people who love each other. Neither type of marriage is given a lower status position so that Kumail can make an easier choice. Lastly, I thought the “iPhone fingerprint” moment and the “sorry” that Kumail lets out was just a perfect encapsulation of those kinds of breaches of intimacy. I won’t say more than that because it’s so great.
But I’m rambling. Clearly The Big Sick resonated a bit more with me than it did you, which is totally fine. I was hoping that would happen again soon.
Rob: As far as theatrical viewing, absolutely. There are some moments that drag, like when they let the comics improvise five jokes when one would do, but overall I loved what it had to say and how it said it. Mark Ahn.
Adam: That’s great. I’m glad to hear it. Random question for you before we wrap. I’m noticing that I’m starting to not want to analyze movies and why they are or are not working for me as much as I used to. It’s almost like I want to preserve the magic and let the car run without knowing how it all works under the hood. Do you feel like an analytical approach is preferable (for you) or do you also enjoy just letting a movie wash over you, do its thing and then move on to the next one?
Rob: I think it’s a great question that really highlights the differences in movie watching that I’ve noticed between myself and some others. There are a lot of movies that just, simply, are. Pirates. The Circle (#JusticeForMercer). They don’t require a lot of examination because they don’t have anything to say. I think it’s difficult to make a strong case for those movies one way or another. That said, when a movie hits me in a real way, good or bad, I’m desperately looking it over again and again to figure out why. I’m totally the kind of person who uses movies to help me understand more about myself, so the analysis (while, I agree, gets tiring in some cases) is a strong component. Plus, I’m an English teacher: my whole life is about making and refining arguments based on the art I consume.
Adam: Yeah, this question stemmed recently from a couple of things. I was talking to my parents about my first favorite movie, Pinocchio, and I was trying to deduce why it moved me so much when I was little. I rationalized it was because Pinocchio was a fuck up and I felt like I was a fuck up a lot when I was a kid in school that had a learning disability. My dad then said “I think you just really liked it a lot” and that made me think to myself that “Yeah, maybe there isn’t a deeper meaning to it than that?” and that reaction felt, in a weird way, more honest and satisfying. The second thing was a great friend of ours, F This Movie’s own Erich Asperschlager, wanted to deep dive into Baby Driver (a movie he and I both love but in possibly different ways) and I didn’t really want to; like it was perfect for me the way it lived in my head and I didn’t want to have that changed. Anyways, sorry for the long tangent. Next week we’ll be back reviewing War for the Planet of the Apes.
Rob: No, I absolutely see where you’re coming from, and I agree with just letting some things be what they are. Savor the experience. Like, the experience of...apes...taking over humanity. How’s that for a transition? Until next time…
Adam: These seats are reserved.