This is the year of the second-generation immigrant story, and I am here for it. Between Aziz Ansari’s Master of None season 2, Hasan Minhaj’s Netflix comedy special Homecoming King, and the new romantic comedy The Big Sick (starring and co-written by Kumail Nanjiani), we are seeing a trend that I fervently hope turns into a proper movement.
For too long, my favorite genres—including romantic comedies—have been narrowly centered around the lives of mainly white middle-class individuals dealing with (what seems to me) very minor problems as they stumble towards bliss. In the hands of writers and creators like Ansari, Minhaj, and Nanjiani, however, lived experiences serve to bring out the complexities hiding beneath simple narratives. While all three writers and comedians tackle common topics like romance, coming-of-age, and immigrant experiences, they subvert the norms by focusing on communities instead of individuals in their art—something Christian viewers will no doubt resonate with.
Currently, we are facing a real need to see the world through a variety of perspectives—especially from religious and ethnic minorities. In a uniquely polarizing moment in time, having Muslim communities tell their own coming-of-age-in-America stories can be both cathartic and thought-provoking. The common threads of humor, poignancy, and a subtle subversion of familiar territory (especially in the realm of romantic comedies) are what make these projects so thoroughly engaging—especially in the recently released The Big Sick.
Let me start by putting my cards out on the table: The Big Sick is the romantic comedy I have been waiting for my entire life. Real-life married couple Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon wrote a version of their own true story that is clear-eyed about the realities of love, even as the premise takes some sharp turns into stakes that are higher than average for most rom-coms. The “big sick” refers to Emily, played in the film by Zoe Kazan, being placed in a medically induced coma for a week to save her life. It is also incredibly funny. For a film with the central premise of a medical emergency, it was a lovely surprise to find myself laughing harder—and longer—than I have in perhaps the past year.
One of the producers is Judd Apatow, so viewers should note that there is plenty of language and a few suggestive jokes and scenes; however, such choices don’t detract from the humor and sweetness that permeate the film.
The storyline is also incredibly romantic, but in a rather curious and expanded way: As others have pointed out, this isn’t just a film about a boy trying to get a girl. Instead, it involves the boy trying to connect to a host of family members: his parents, his brothers and sister-in-law, and, in the most hilarious, touching, and awkward of scenarios, his ex-girlfriend’s parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both incredibly watchable).
I was drawn to see the film after hearing an interview with Nanjiani and Gordon in which they discussed being married for almost ten years and what it has been like to weather the differences in culture and religion between their two families—not to mention the medical crisis that propelled their relationship into a real and lasting commitment. As someone who has also been married for ten years, experienced several medical emergencies (involving almost a month total of living in the twilight zone known as “hospital time”), and had to deal with major issues involving in-laws, this movie felt true to life.