I probably don’t need to tell you that love is hard. But it could be harder.
What if I told you that you get to fall in love with someone who’s just perfect for you, but if your relatives found out, they’d be so disapproving that they might kick you out of the family? And on top of that, the person you’re in love with develops a mysterious infection and has to be put into a medically induced coma while the doctors try to save her life? And you broke up with her shortly before this happened, which means you don’t really know what you should be doing, you just know that you need to be there for her, even if she has no idea you’re there?
OK, this all sounds insane when I say it out loud. But this is exactly what happened to Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, and they turned their story into the movie The Big Sick. Kumail plays himself as part of a Pakistani family in Chicago that believes only in arranged marriages. Zoe Kazan plays Emily, who’s studying to become a therapist and who meets Kumail one night after he plays a stand-up comedy set at a local club. The two quickly hit it off, but the tension caused when Emily finds out that Kumail can’t—or won’t—tell his family about her forces their breakup. And then Emily’s infection hits, she’s put into the coma, and Kumail has to figure out exactly what he’s doing.
One of the most welcome aspects of The Big Sick is that despite how nuts this all is, it feels very grounded, maybe because it really happened. The characters are funny, but not too funny, the stakes seem real, and you can tell that everyone really cares about each other—from Kumail’s family, to Kumail and Emily, to Emily’s parents when they show up to take care of their daughter. But it’s also not clean and tidy—there’s a lot of messiness that goes with love, and a lot of hurt feelings. And to its credit, The Big Sick doesn’t shy away from any of this. It’s a real story about real love, and that’s something that rarely follows the usual script.