It’s rare for a film to exceed your every expectation but that is exactly what “The Big Sick” did for me.  Going in I was a bit wary, because every once in a while a movie with such glowing reviews as this one comes out and disappoints, or just isn’t what you thought it would be, or the like and I was so excited to finally see this one I was worried that I had built it up a bit too much in my own mind. However, if there ever was a textbook success story for the edict of “Writing what you know” then “The Big Sick” is definitely it.

Kumail Nanjiani as “Kumail” and Holly Hunter as “Beth” in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Nicole Rivelli.

There were so many things to absolutely adore about this movie.  I love how it doesn’t exactly fit into one specific genre of film but dips its toe successfully into everything at once.  Is it mainly a romantic comedy?  Well, sure, but the romance, dating, and pursuit of a partner isn’t the main thrust of the plot that drives forward your traditional romantic comedy.  Heck, the two main characters here have a serious break-up 20 minutes in and then aren’t even a couple for the rest of the film!  By that definition you could classify this film as a tragedy.  It’s a family drama full of tension.  It’s a documentary.  It’s part travelogue.  It’s a coming-of-age tale. It’s a search for acceptance.  It’s so many things co-existing beautifully at once.  It’s not so much a film as it is a representation of life (with all the boring bits cut out.)

I connected personally with this movie in so many ways.  First off, I love all the dinner scenes with Kumail’s family.  His mother trying to set him up on dates – so awkward, so funny, so honest a portrayal of trying to honour and show respect to your parents when you really don’t want to.  And then the last scene where he comes prepared with cue cards and states that he is always going to be a part of the family.  Choosing family over the negativity and fighting for it, or really anything you believe in, was quite meaningful to me. (Yes, I’m one of the ‘message kids’ as Joe Gillis would say.  Congrats if you get that reference, if you do we should hang out more.)  Why? Two reasons.  First, all the men in my wife’s family are engineers, electricians, operators, HVAC specialists, etc. etc. while I, am most decidedly not.   I cannot tell you how many dinners I have had where I sit there and awkwardly listen to discussions on flow rates, tank capacities, yield rates, or pressure ratios with a glazed look covering my face.  Secondly, earlier this year I decided to quit my job, change careers and go back to school because of how negatively my old job was affecting my family, and that’s something I couldn’t have done at all if I hadn’t had the full support of my extended family to do so either.  So for me, I found those scenes completely truthful in the portrayal of having such conflicting feelings at the same time; and also something completely joyful in seeing that I am not the only one who relates to their family like that on a regular basis, and that it’s also completely okay to feel that way.

Now, the other part of the film I found to be completely honest and relatable is in its handling of Emily’s sickness.  The uncertainty of the parents in not being able to do anything yet wanting to do everything they can while also at the same time struggling with their own lives and issues was just perfect.  And not to turn this into a Dr. Phil session, but when our son was born, the doctors were concerned that his blood oxygen level being too low that they had him in an isolation chamber for the first week of his life.  And I cannot tell you what it feels like, when they tell you that everything is fine and going to be okay and not to worry, that when one day turns into two, then three, then four, and every other new parent around you has come in and left with their baby sometimes the same day, that it begins to terrify you and consume your every waking thought.  So much so that again you don’t know what to do, yet you know that you still have to go back to work and interact with people.  Be positive.  Be patient.  Look through old photos.  Go to a comedy club just to get your mind off the situation for a brief moment of your existence.  I honestly couldn’t hold back the tears watching that play out on screen and when I watch the film again (which I definitely will) I probably won’t stop myself from experiencing those emotions again – nor would I want to.

Holly Hunter as “Beth” and Ray Romano as “Terry” in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Nicole Rivelli.

Speaking of emotions –  on the flip side of the parent’s experience we have Kumail.  The ex-boyfriend who knows he screwed up but at the time didn’t have the self-confidence yet to do the right thing for him asked by a friend of his former girlfriend to go to the hospital just to be there for her and getting told by the doctor that her life is in his hands.  To see him sitting in the waiting room across from his ‘mother-in-law’ and watch all those unspoken emotions within him crawl across his face and know that turmoil is again all at once funny, tragic, and real gives the audience an rare sense of empathy for all of these characters.  Such a small scene but brilliantly played and directed because this film is not afraid to show us that our lives are all made up of those small little moments and that we have to go on coping with them the best way we know how.  It goes back to the wonderful way “The Big Sick” manages to subvert our expectations by showing us that it is the journey that matters most and not the fairy-tale ending we are hoping to get.


And that ending-which is the perfect cap to the movie and what really makes it a film that stands out as unique and believable-where Emily and Kumail have a discussion sitting on the bed at his one-man show.  The point where in every other romantic comedy the couple gets together and goes off to have their storybook ending, “The Big Sick” flips that on its head and shows us that everyone has a different journey they’ve taken, and while we might have crossed paths here and there during that time; it’s not the same for any of us backwards or forwards.  It was an amazingly authentic conclusion to show.

So by now you have probably figured out that I thought “The Big Sick” was a fabulously entertaining movie, and if you didn’t join us for the screening you should definitely take the time to seek it out or watch it again.  The next Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery’s Reel Movie Mondays is October 30, 2017 when we screen the unique animated film “Loving Vincent” at Carnival Cinemas.  Check out the website for more information on how to buy tickets and until then, save me the aisle seat!

~Jason Hlady, Volunteer, Reel Movie Mondays

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