the big sick (michael showalter, 2017)

here’s a lovely thing which i haven’t experienced in a long, long time: going to see a film with someone that’s REALLY fucking excited about seeing a film. i’ve somehow successfully managed to avoid cinema dates for the past few years; what initially became a depressing thing post-breakup soon became one of my favourite things (because let’s be honest, there’s few things in life as nice as being sat alone in a dark room with a bag of crispy m&ms and a film projected on a huge screen) but now, all of sudden, that’s been flipped on its head. i’m not sure whether it was my date’s infectious (no pun intended) excitement for this film, comedy, kumail nanjiani (or all of the above) but this is the first rom-com in a long time that i haven’t regretted going to the cinema to see. not only is it a refreshing story, it’s unique in that it’s a film about a pakistani man who isn’t some science nerd or a terrorist and is actually portrayed – almost – as your average joe. amazing, right?!

narrative-wise, there isn’t actually too much to discuss given that the plot itself isn’t anything special; it’s a not so simple case of brown boy (kumail) meets white girl (emily), *feelings* happen, oh-no tragedy (in this case, a medically induced coma, which is the good kind of coma, fyi) and then, after a little more #drama, a happy ending. the thing i love most about this story is that it’s actually based on nanjiani’s own experiences navigating life, love and marriage and is co-written by his real life wife, emily. having judd apatow producing is no bad thing either (tho, i have to admit, the last film of his that i loved as much as the big sick was bridesmaids, over 5 years ago) and with a cast featuring zoe kazan, ray romano (who i may or may not have recognised…), anupam kher and adeel akhtar, you can’t really go wrong.

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it’s a strange thing to actually see a pakistani portrayed on screen as just a ‘normal’ person. kumail is an uber driver (okay, maybe that part is a tad stereotypical) with aspirations of becoming a comedian not an engineer, he plays games on his phone instead of praying his namaz, drinks and has casual sex. as the film progresses and his character becomes more fleshed out, you discover that he’s into old school horror films which he screens for emily on an early date (s/o dr phibes, and, the night of the living dead – which seemed particularly fitting given romero’s recent passing), has an x-files ringtone and a family – despite the somewhat stereotypical portrayal – a lot of south asians can probably relate to. and then there’s emily; a doe-eyed and somewhat enigmatic character who heckles him at a show, *obviously* ‘isn’t really looking to date’ and later, is too afraid to take a shit in front of him. they appear to be polar opposites but despite their wildly differing cultural backgrounds, have an undeniable chemistry and from the get go, you’re itching for them to get their happy ending.

quick tangent – two things about turning 24 this year:

  1. i STILL get excited whenever i see an accurate or different portrayal of south asians in film and television. in 2017, i feel like that’s a pretty sad thing and in a lot of cases, it’s become a case of ‘take what you get’ so even where kumail falters, it feels somewhat hard to criticise him for it. even more so when he’s created something that allows me, a young british pakistani woman, to get equally as much joy out of him performing at a comedy club AND the mention of a classic 80s bollywood movie (satte pe satta – which would probably be lost on a huge majority of the white audience).
  2. marriage. i’ve noticed over the past few months that this has become an incredibly popular topic of conversation, not only between my mum and i but also my grandma, aunties and friends. being pakistani, the cultural ‘norm’ is to get married, there’s no escape and although i can’t entirely relate to kumail (thankfully, my mum doesn’t care much for arranged marriages) seeing the complexities of it play out on the big screen with comic overtones was definitely something i needed.

this leads quite perfectly into where the film really gets going – when the cross-cultural elements of kumail and emily’s relationship start to kick in and make being together a challenge. gradually, we delve deeper into what kumail’s parents want and expect of him whilst also becoming invested in emily’s parents, who kumail ends up spending an intense (and hilarious) fortnight full of 9/11 jokes and pizza with, after emily is placed in a coma.

in a way, i have a somewhat divided opinion on this film; i absolutely adore it but also, feel as if i should be critical of it. the adoration overpowers the critical side in this case but there’s a small nagging feeling that i can’t entirely get rid of. perhaps it’s because they get more screen time (for good reason), are white and the ‘norm’ but emily’s parents aren’t in this film for comic effect. they’re fully formed and relatively fleshed our characters; instead of being the butt of the joke, they help form the jokes and carry the film. kumail’s family however, seem to be the butt of the joke. i found myself laughing at most of the silly things they did, like his dad mispronouncing the name ‘dave’ and his mum doting over a lovely pakistani girl who just happened to be passing by the house and may or may not be perfect marriage material, instead of with.

and then comes the supposedly nagging thing; zubeida and khadija and whoever else drops by are all great women; they’re pretty, smart, funny but they’re not *enough* for kumail – and that’s totally fine. i never once got the impression that they were never good enough for him because they were pakistani, it was more that he just wasn’t really looking for marriage and later, by chance, ended up falling for a white woman – again, totally fine, totally understandable.

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but apparently, this is a really big issue and as a south asian woman, i shouldn’t be okay with it? prior to watching this film, i’d discussed the idea of kumail using south asian woman for comedic effect with my best friend countless times and read way too many articles written by woc who were annoyed at him for reducing women from their culture to a boring stereotype. the thing is, after seeing the film, i sort of get why he portrayed them the way he did and don’t entirely have a problem with it. at the end of the day, it’s the story of him and emily – a white woman and his wife. is the fact that he met those other women along the way such a terrible thing to include, especially if there’s some truth in it? it’s a comedy, there isn’t much need for serious characters but even then, there’s a potential match who holds an intelligent conversation with him and shares her thoughts and fears in a scene that’s actually quite poignant.

when it really comes down to it, to me, perhaps the most annoying and infuriating thing isn’t even kumail’s portrayal of these women but other south asian men defending him by putting down south asian women’s valid criticisms. of course, i’ll always side with the women because i do fully understand the issue and although i might not resonate with it in this instance, i get why so many woc are upset that in the process of celebrating his relationship, they feel as if they’ve been somewhat trashed, especially since it’s become such a common thing.

a recent example is hasan minhaj’s standup which centre’s around his ‘white princess’ – his content is quite literally born out his experiences with a white woman. in master of none, even though dev dates several brown women, none of them compare to the italian white woman who he ultimately ends up with. i get it, aziz, francesca is a beautiful woman, i’d date her too but it begs the question – why aren’t brown women ever portrayed in mainstream media as being good enough for brown men? but i digress! with those irritating issues aside, i would still wholeheartedly recommend the big sick. it’s not often a film like this comes along; it’s funny in all the right places, it’s serious when it needs to be, the cast light up the screen and have great chemistry, and most importantly, it’s a pretty big step for south asians in cinema – what more could you ask for from a film?

 

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