Girlfriend in a coma, I know – ★★★★
The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani as Kumail, a young muslim man whose parents are trying to set him up in an arranged marriage. Unfortunately for them, he’s not interested in his Pakistani traditions of courtship and is falling for a white American girl named Emily played by Zoe Kazan. But Kumail and Emily hit a bit of a speed bump when she discovers all of the intricacies of his family’s traditions (in the form of a series of headshots and CVs of Pakistani women in a cigar box in his bedroom), so they break up.
Emily then contracts a mystery illness and goes into a coma which leaves Kumail as the point of contact in the hospital as her parents Beth and Terry, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, arrive on the scene.
The film’s first act isn’t really anything special and follows a lot of the tropes of Hollywood romantic comedies. Where the film comes to life is with the addition of Beth and Terry, as we reveal a rather unusual dynamic between a set of parents and their could-have-been son-in-law who has just broken their daughter’s heart.
Romano is a revelation here and manages to fill the role with plenty of pathos and dark humour. As the film rolls on and flirts with becoming a buddy movie starring Romano and Nanjiani, we learn of Terry’s own marital problems with Beth, and Romano’s hangdog demeanour feeling ever more justified.
It’s now well-documented that the film is loosely based on the real-life relationship between Nanjiani and his wife Emily, who is his co-writer. This means that Nanjiani always appears comfortable in his work as an on-screen comedian (at those times he is playing himself after all), and yet its the scenes of him in the hospital, or in conflict with his family that are more interesting to observe him in, and he holds his own as a dramatic actor forcing the viewer to question whether they’re on-board with his actions or not.
There’s been a lot written about whether this is a good film for Muslims in America, but really it’s a Hollywood film about being an American in a Western relationship and so should be considered with that in mind. The character Kumail more or less disowns his religion and says it isn’t for him, he was brought to America as a young boy and yet he feels his family are more interested in having their own Islamic world in this new world.
It should be noted that the representations of the young Muslim women presenting themselves to be married off do leave a bad taste in the mouth, but then again The Big Sick doesn’t exactly do much for the representation of young women of any race on screen considering the female lead is put into a coma after half an hour – though admittedly a conscious Emily is always in control of her own destiny.
So while the first act could be more challenging, what is contained thereafter is an engaging, romantic, and charming story that will get you thinking about race, gender and relationships – while also providing perfect summer date night viewing. A must-see.
Released in Ireland on July 28th 2017
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