Looking for a rom-com? Watch “The Big Sick”

The bleak horror fan recommends a romantic comedy film for Valentine’s Day

“The Big Sick” is a 2017 romantic comedy written by Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”) and Emily V. Gordon (“Crashing”), who are married in real life. This film follows a fictionalized Nanjiani (who plays himself) as he tries to become a stand-up comic and meets a woman named Emily Gardner, who is based on Gordon. After they break up, she falls into a coma and Kumail finds himself struggling with his feelings for Emily while also spending time with her parents. The film’s cast includes Zoe Kazan (“Olive Kitteridge”), Holly Hunter (“The Piano”), Ray Romano (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff (“Ms. Marvel”), Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”), Aidy Bryant (“Saturday Night Live”) and Adeel Akhtar (“Utopia”).

Romantic comedy is not a genre that I particularly enjoy, but this was a film that truly resonated with me thanks to its protagonist and his struggles. Kumail feels like a real person, and it definitely helps that the character is based on the man writing and playing the character. Both his dialogue and delivery feel natural, which immediately endears him to me. But I think what really interested me in this film was the fact that this was an American rom-com following a Pakistani man as he struggles with living in the United States while having to follow the customs of his family. For example, his parents want him to marry a Pakistani woman that they approve of, whereas Kumail would rather just date who he wants and see where it takes him. We’re also shown that they’re skeptical of his career as a stand-up comic early on in a family dinner scene, so it’s understandable that Kumail doesn’t tell his parents when he starts dating Emily. He does, however, tell Naveed, his brother, who hilariously criticizes him for dating a white woman. As a whole, there was just something about seeing a brown man like myself being represented in a mainstream rom-com that also discusses the culture clash between South Asian parents and American traditions. This isn’t to say that I personally relate to it exactly, as my parents aren’t particularly conservative when it comes to arranged marriage and career choices, but it is still one of those things that I’m able to empathize with.

We also see another side of this cultural divide later down the line. After Emily gets hospitalized, Kumail calls Emily’s parents (Beth and Terry) and eventually bonds with them. There are some admittedly cringey moments in this portion of the film, but they still feel realistic. Conversations can be really uncomfortable, especially when trying to learn about another culture and not really knowing how to formulate your thoughts; you can end up sounding biased when you’re genuinely an open-minded person with poor communication skills. There’s a scene halfway through the film where Kumail is performing his stand-up routine before being heckled by a racist man yelling at him to ‘Go back to ISIS!’ While Kumail wants to defuse the situation and just continue with his routine, Beth (who is attending along with Terry) refuses to let this man get away with his racism and becomes slightly aggressive, eventually lunging at the man before being escorted by security. At this point in the film, Beth has still been a bit cold towards Kumail, but this is the scene where we start to see that she actually cares about him. Hunter’s performance as Beth adds a lot to the scene, as does Romano’s portrayal of Terry (that could also just be because I grew up watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond”).

The thing is that “The Big Sick” is a romantic comedy at its core, yet I haven’t been saying all that much about romance. It’s very sweet and heartwarming, and it’s nice that Nanjiani and Gordon made this film inspired by their own relationship, but this love story is probably the least interesting element of the film. Kazan and Nanjiani play off of each other well, but the cultural divide is what caught my interest from the very beginning of the film. Not only that, but it doesn’t really help that Emily is in a coma for most of the movie. At the end of the day, the film is about Kumail, his relationship with both his and Emily’s families and culture clashes between Pakistan and the United States.

In spite of how little I focused on the film’s romantic elements, I would say that “The Big Sick” is a great rom-com for people to watch this Valentine’s Day. It has a solid screenplay and funny performances, but it’s also a culturally relevant and accessible film that should please fans of the genre. After all, if this lover of bleak horror movies can love something like “The Big Sick,” then I think that anybody can.