‘THE BIG SICK’ revives Rom-Com with writers’ true love story


Preston Barta // Features Editor

What if your life was a movie? How would it start? How would it end? Would people want to see it? Who would play you? We’ve all had cinematic moments happen in our lives that have felt so crushingly real or humorous that they would be perfect for a movie.

Couple Kumail Nanjiani (SILICON VALLEY) and Emily V. Gordon (THE MELTDOWN) made this dream a reality by teaming up with producer Judd Apatow (TRAINWRECK) for THE BIG SICK. Their infectious love story seems like a fairy tale, but it’s true. Director Michael Showalter (HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS) captures how Pakistani-American comedian Nanjiani ignored his parents’ wishes to be in an arranged marriage to instead fall for a white non-Muslim woman.

And the woman happened to be in a medically induced coma.

Kumail Nanjiani stars in the romantic comedy THE BIG SICK, which he wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. The film is based on their real-life courtship. For The Washington Post.

Before you start confusing this storyline with the exceptionally creepy PASSENGERS, know that Nanjiani and Gordon had a history together. They met at one of Nanjiani’s stand-up shows, when Gordon (portrayed by Zoe Kazan in the film) heckled him in good taste. Sparks flew as the two hit it off immediately, but as Nanjiani’s culturally orthodox roots surfaced, it became increasingly difficult to pursue their relationship further.

However, fate changed their hearts for the better in a bizarre turn of events: Gordon fell deathly ill, leaving Nanjiani to hang out with her parents (an award-worthy Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) while she recovered. This is perhaps the worst time to meet a significant other’s parents, but Nanjiani stepped up and slowly came to realize that he didn’t want to allow his family’s customs to interfere with his true feelings.

Going through all this first hand had to be trying, but imagine dissecting your relationship, looking at it objectively and hearing each other’s perspectives in order to write a screenplay.

“Working together has definitely brought us to a new stage in our relationship,” Nanjiani said when he stopped at the Alamo Drafthouse in Dallas to promote the film. “Reading someone’s writing can be an intimate experience. [Gordon] and I got to know how our minds work through the process.”

Nanjiani said working together made them both feel like a team, because they overcame so many obstacles in their time. Writing the film allowed them to open themselves up to a whole new level.

“Most of Emily’s character was written by [Gordon], and most of Kumail’s character was, naturally, written by me. Even if all the lines from me aren’t exactly written by me, they’re from my perspective. In fact, most of the third-act was written by [Gordon], which was great, because, unfortunately, we don’t get to hear the feminine perspective in film that often.”

Interestingly enough, one of the first things audiences will take notice of before the end credits is how well balanced each of the characters are. Never does it focus on just one side of the story, a common flaw in the romantic comedy genre. Both of the characters’ viewpoints can be understood.

“You want both people to make sense and also recognize where they’re coming from. We didn’t want anybody to be right in the movie, necessarily. We wanted them to feel like real people in a complicated situation together,” Nanjiani said. “Everyone is trying to do the right thing, but sometimes it doesn’t lead to easy conclusions.”

One scene in particular that highlights the different characters’ perspectives comes early on in the film, where Kumail shows Emily one of his favorite movies for the first time, the Vincent Price-starring 1971 comedy-horror film THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES.

“I originally wrote that scene as a way to share something I love with Emily. Then, [Gordon] rewrote the scene as a way to show that I am testing her tastes by having my character stare at her while she watches the film,” Nanjiani recalled. “I realized that I hadn’t seen a moment like that before in a movie, yet it’s such a relatable thing to show others what we love as litmus test of sorts.”

So much of THE BIG SICK strikes truth. While we all may not come from the same backgrounds, the film relatably approaches themes of love and family through its specificity. For all its originality and humor, it’s the kind of romantic comedy that will make you fall in love with the genre all over again. Even actors Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant would crack a smile.

THE BIG SICK is now playing in select theaters in Dallas, and will expand in the coming weeks. However, I would personally suggest seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse – Cedars in Dallas on July 7 to experience the tasty, exclusive food menu they cooked up for the film.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.