Meet-cutes and missed connections are typically the workhorses of charming courtship stories. Then there are the rare tales that seem so improbable, they could have been lifted from paperback romance novels. Exactly how actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and writer Emily V. Gordon came to be husband and wife in real life involved both a) his circumventing his conservative Pakistani family’s expectations of an arranged marriage, and b) her being put into a medically induced coma, among other events. The pair have immortalized their story by co-writing the bittersweet romantic comedy The Big Sick, already proclaimed a standout at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
It’s not hard to see why the Michael Showalter–directed film has already resonated so strongly with audiences. The Big Sick skillfully strings together several significant and satisfying narratives without any one overtaking the others. These include the familial pressures Nanjiani faces; the ardors of falling in love with Emily (played with verve by Zoe Kazan, with Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents) while she’s emotionally and physically unavailable; and the grueling road to making it as a stand-up comedian in Chicago.
It’s easy for romantic comedies (especially ones involving a mysterious illness plot twist) to slip into purely sappy territory. But thanks to Nanjiani and Gordon’s script—equally funny, frank, and frightening—The Big Sick emerges as an unshakeable comedy made by, and for, a generation rediscovering what intimacy means.