Touching Cross-Cultural Romance

The Big Sick (2017) Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani.

By Nick Boyd


“The Big Sick,” a romantic dramedy starring stand-up comedian/actor Kumail Nanjiani as Kumail, along with Zoe Kazan as Emily, Ray Romano as Terry, and Holly Hunter as Beth, is able to very effectively mix laughs with a really serious medical predicament that Zoe Kazan’s character Emily finds herself in. Kumail finds himself in a relationship with Emily, after they meet at one of his stand-up acts, where she initially gets his attention by heckling him. At first she tries to end things by saying that since she is in graduate school and very busy that they would not have time to date. He then adds an excuse as well as to why the relationship would not be able to work. Of course, this being a romantic comedy, we know that they will end up seeing each other again and dating.


About midway through the film, Emily finds herself not feeling well, after having sprained her ankle. Things soon become progressively worse, and she finds herself in the emergency room. Right before this had taken place, she and Kumail had gotten into an argument, after she found some things of his, indicating to her that he had been hiding some things about himself.

At the hospital, Kumail meets Emily’s parents – Terry and Beth, who at first wonder why he is there, as they thought the two of them had broken up. This causes awkwardness between the three of them that is only magnified by their cultural differences (her dad even brings up 9/11). This slowly lessens, as Emily’s parents learn to get to know Kumail over the many hours they spend at the hospital, at his apartment, and even seeing him perform one of his stand-up acts. They are able to see just how much he cares for Emily and bond through humor in this very difficult experience and even surprisingly become friends.

The film shows the struggles Kumail faces from his Pakistani parents, who want him to adhere to their traditional cultural ways. In fact, they go so far as to invite potential Pakistani female suitors over to meet Kumail for dinner every time he visits them, which provides some comedy in the film. The parents were married through an arranged marriage and this is something that Kumail has been trying to avoid, explaining to his parents that now that they are in the United States, he should be free to explore his own path. Kumail’s brother also makes it known that Kumail not having a beard is something that he should strive to correct as a good Muslim.

There is a very funny scene in the movie that is reminiscent of the rental car agency scene in the film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” that illustrates just how frustrated Kumail is in trying to make a meal order.

I did find it contrived that Kumail’s parents would drive out to his apartment on the day of a big career change for him, considering that they were not on speaking terms.

The acting in the picture is heartfelt and feels genuine, from the main roles through the smaller parts. The writing, though, really shines, and is much more intelligent and perceptive than the typical romantic comedy we are used to seeing.

Touching and comedic, this is a movie with a lot to say about the human condition, which really sticks with you. It also does a wonderful job of exploring the cultural clash that Muslims encounter in America.

The Big Sick (2017)
Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani.


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