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"In The Big Sick, Kumail, a chronic liar, learns to speak tenuous truths. The film is a humorous exploration of the tricky, human-produced boundaries of culture, family, religion and romantic relationships. Ultimately, it speaks about honesty and its necessity for sustained acts of love.

Kumail, a thirty-something Uber driver and struggling comedian is the child of a strict Pakistani-American immigrant family. His family’s two expectations are: “Be a good Muslim and marry a Pakistani girl.” However, he secretly spurns these expectations. Not only does he fake his five minutes of prayer each time he visits his parents, but he also denies the custom of arranged marriage by his covert relationship with Emily, a white graduate student he met after she heckled him at a show.

He hides the truth from those closest to him for the majority of the film: his forbidden girlfriend is kept from his family, and likewise, the cigar-box full of the head shots of approved suitors his parents not-so-subtly invite to family dinners is kept from Emily. Understandably, when Emily comes across the hidden stack of photos, she has questions. Answers come in vitriolic fashion: Kumail’s parents know nothing of their half-year-long relationship, which meets a swift end. Dishonesty kills.

It is only Emily’s sudden hospitalization and subsequent medically induced coma that brings Kumail back into her life, and also, into the lives of her parents, Beth and Terry. He feels obligated to be present, so he sits awkwardly in the waiting rooms and doctor’s offices, slowly endearing himself to Emily’s standoffish parents (her mother heard about everything he said to Emily). Oddly enough, he is soon drawn into the drama of Beth and Terry’s relationship, which was strained by Terry’s recent infidelity and then completely exacerbated by their daughter’s mysterious, life-threatening illness.

It is through this confounding, surrogate-parental relationship that Kumail learns the necessity of honesty in love. He then confronts his parents, in one of the film’s most impactful scenes. He implores them: “Why did you bring me here if you don’t want me to have an American life?” At this point, he finally expresses his internal struggles and questions— emotional, religious and romantic—with his parents, knowing that his relationship with them will be jeopardized. He chooses honesty.

Kumail’s arc toward integrity does not undercut his familial commitments, though. He barges in on a family dinner holding a card which reads, “Family will always be family,” annoucning his intent to continue being a member of the family, whether or not his family overtly acknowledges him as such.

The Big Sick certainly provides a genuine and humorous look at the difficulties of honesty and the meaning of family, but this isn’t entirely new territory. Likewise, there is no doubt it is notable for featuring a Pakistani-American lead and a romance between that lead and a white woman. Still, the film doesn’t offer any cutting critique of racism in America. That doesn’t seem to be its import.
What truly sets apart The Big Sick is how real it is...literally. The film is a re-telling of the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, both of whom wrote the screenplay. While it may not be entirely novel in its themes or more than basic in its social critique, it is significant that the story presented is the real story of Kumail and Emily, an interracial couple living in America. It is representative of the drama of their experience, even if it might not encompass that drama in all its gritty detail. That realness is something worth talking about." 

—Daniel Hickey

October 2017
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