Movies

How the Cast of The Big Sick Subverted Rom-Com Expectations

Kumail Nanjiani discovered methods to floor considerate humor in a second of abject trauma in his and Emily V. Gordon’s Academy Award-winning twist on what we count on from a romantic comedy.

Amazon Studios

By Jacob Trussell · Published on July 14th, 2022

Acting is an artwork type, and behind each iconic character is an artist expressing themselves. Welcome to The Great Performances, a recurring column exploring the artwork behind some of cinema’s finest roles. In this entry, we look at the work of the nice ensemble cast of Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick.


The Big Sick‘s director Michael Showalter touched on why stand-up comedy can typically resemble public shows of remedy,

“There’s something about the performance and anonymity of the audience and the microphone in your hand where you actually get to say your truth. That’s the moment of purest expression, not just for the comedian, but for that person. I definitely felt that I could sometimes be more honest and more truthful to a room full of people that I’ve never met before than to a friend or to a loved one.”

Stand-up comedians typically suffuse their personal lives into their routines. They cherry-pick real-life experiences after which stretch them to the humorous extremes. Making mild of their very own personal historical past–nonetheless tragic–may also help create a relatable connection to the viewers. And in relaying that story, it could actually additionally enable the performer to grasp one thing about themselves higher too.

Actors, although, are sometimes deterred from performances primarily based on their very own life. The concern is that by forcing your self to relive advanced feelings, the traces between actuality and fiction can simply blur. The consequence of it is a technique actor forgetting the place the course of ends and the efficiency begins. But it’s additionally less complicated than that. It’s simply laborious to shake off trauma after participating with it for an prolonged period of time.

But that’s not precisely a privilege multi-hyphenate comedian-actor-writer Kumail Nanjiani had together with his autobiographical function in The Big Sick. The complete movie required Nanjiani to reengage with the most traumatic occasion of his life; when his partner, Emily V. Gordon, abruptly fell right into a coma.

However, Nanjiani and co-writer Gordon don’t let the emotional weight of what actually occurred grasp heavy on The Big Sick. Instead, they maintain considerate humor and romantic comedy tropes at the forefront of an outwardly tragic story. And in doing so, they subvert our expectations of what rom-com relationships can appear like.

After a heckle turns into a meet-cute between Emily (Zoe Kazan) and Kumail, we’re swept into their early courtship. Nanjiani and Kazan’s chemistry is electrical as they effortlessly specific all the highs and lows of a blossoming relationship. Not shying away from the messy in-between moments makes their rom-com story really feel extra relatable than the farcical antics of a movie like Richard Curtis and Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Like each nice rom-com, as Emily and Kumail fall in love, so can we fall in love with them. And when their relationship invariably hits the skids, we really feel simply as gutted. But in contrast to how this trope is utilized in different rom-coms, The Big Sick doesn’t simply briefly break up our lovers. It subverts our expectations by sidelining one-half of our central relationship for the majority of the movie.

Showalter succinctly summarized this subversion in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, “It would be like if, you know, in When Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan just went into a coma 30 minutes into the movie.” Removing half of the relationship is a method The Big Sick subverts basic rom-com tropes. But there may be one other, extra nuanced subversion. It occurs between Nanjiani, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano, who play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry.

After Emily falls right into a coma, Nanjiani turns into the heart of the movie. He carries the chemistry he developed with Kazan into the relationships he creates with different characters. Rather than watching Kumail and Emily’s love proceed to develop, it unexpectedly thrives with Beth and Terry. Through Hunter and Romano’s efficiency, we see glimpses of the Emily that Nanjiani fell in love with. We see her empathy via Romano’s healthful paternal heat. In Hunter, we see Emily’s sharp-tongued wit that first caught Kumail’s heart. Suddenly, the relationship Kumail was constructing with one particular person has break up into two.

After a clumsy meeting at the hospital, adopted by an much more awkward stand-up gig, they retreat back to Emily’s condo as the evening wears on. As they drink and get to know one another, the chilly shoulder Beth first offers Kumail melts away. There’s an unanticipated heat that radiates between Nanjiani and Hunter that’s overwhelming–the actual phrase Emily used to explain her emotions for Kumail earlier in the movie. Hunter performs this newfound affection with laidback ease, using her southern attraction to enrapture the viewers as we watch their relationship start to develop. Now we’re not simply hoping for 2 lovers to get collectively–we’re rooting for a whole household.

Nanjiani notably shines in the moments the place he’s on the periphery of a scene, watching in silence with the identical helplessness he seemingly felt in actual life. As Beth and Terry brace themselves for the worst after studying Emily should bear surgical procedure, Kumail stands in the nook in quiet anguish. We can sense in his body language an inner battle. He desires to be shoulder to shoulder with Beth and Terry, however as an outsider, he’s uncertain of his place on this household.

Without drawing consideration away from Hunter and Romano’s performances, Nanjiani exhibits us a gut punch that’s quietly genuine and underlines what makes his work so fascinating in the movie. He’s merely permitting his ideas and recollections to affect his actions in the second, saving his efficiency from drowning in all of the abject emotional trauma he undoubtedly skilled.

Through the intentional subversion of style tropes, Kumail Nanjiani and the ensemble cast of The Big Sick delivered genuine performances with out shedding any of the attraction we count on from the best rom-com ensembles, like the aforementioned Four Weddings and a Funeral. Nanjiani himself has a well-documented obsession with that movie’s star, Hugh Grant, whose efficiency impressed him to turn into a comic. While Nanjiani’s hair might not flop fairly as majestically as Grant’s, his affinity for the actor is totally evident on display screen. We can solely think about future generations of actors will discover simply as a lot inspiration in The Big Sick as Nanjiani did when he first witnessed the affable attraction of Richard Curtis’ rom-com everyman.

Related Topics: The Great Performances

Jacob Trussell is a author primarily based in New York City. His editorial work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Rue Morgue Magazine, Film School Rejects, and One Perfect Shot. He’s additionally the creator of ‘The Binge Watcher’s Guide to The Twilight Zone’ (Riverdale Avenue Books). Available to host your subsequent spooky public entry present. Find him on Twitter right here: @JE_TRUSSELL (He/Him)

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