When’s the last time America got swept up in a good rom-com? 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t count and all of the Nicholas Sparks movies merge into one big damsel in distress blur. The closest we’ve come to romance is the chemistry between the sweaty teens that meet in the Coke commercials. It’s a little pathetic.
The Big Sick has been heralded as the savior of the romantic comedy genre. With a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the movie was said to be the greatest rom-com in years. The problem with a huge helping of praise is the curse of expectation. The Big Sick is good. It is not the greatest romantic comedy of all time in the traditional sense. It has, however, mastered the art of showing a more interesting romance–a practical one.
Kumail Nanjiani wrote the script with his wife Emily V. Gordon. The plot is based off of their difficult-to-believe-if-it-wasn’t-true story. Kumail meets Emily. They have a spark. They fall in love, but right when things get difficult Emily is put in a medically induced coma. There are more complications when Kumail has to deal with navigating the expectations of his Pakistani family and Emily’s family’s issues. Nicholas Sparks is kicking himself for not dreaming up this concept.
The Big Sick borrows the tropes of rom-coms and re-packages them in a more attainable way. One of the most heartwarming tricks of the genre is the “thoughtful gesture.” For example, in Music and Lyrics, when Hugh Grant screws over Drew Barrymore he writes the perfect pop song and sings it for her in Madison Square Garden. The gesture is extremely impractical. In Kumail and Emily’s story his thoughtful gesture is a bag of mementos that are barely enough to fill up a scrapbook page. It’s not a serenade at the Madison Square Garden, but it still has the same heart-warming effect and it is completely attainable.
Unlike most sappy movies, Kumail spends very little screen time with his love interest. Because of their specific situation they can’t be like Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Julia and Richard go to the polo match, the opera and Julia even shoots snails across a ritzy restaurant. Kumail gets to know Emily’s parents just as much as he gets to know her. Instead of 90 minutes of witty banter between the two lovebirds they show how he pursues her without being with her. The result is a much sweeter story than a rich man falling love with a call girl.
Finally, the writing in The Big Sick is natural and believable. In Notting Hill, Julia Roberts tells Hugh Grant that she’s “just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” The line is quintessential romantic comedy, but it’s not the most believable line. Kumail and Emily’s romance is more grounded. Emily tells Kumail, “I am overwhelmed by you.” (In a good way) and Kumail fumbles a loving comeback. Even though the writing is thoughtful and sweet, the movie puts more emphasis on the actions the characters make rather than their overly sappy words.
In the end, The Big Sick isn’t the greatest romantic comedy of all time because it is too real. There’s no elaborate montage of the couple getting to know each other because that time is designated to them dealing with real-life, high-stakes issues. The movie is set in a world where people aren’t creepers showing up with posters on a married woman’s doorstep (see insert) The Big Sick is a more practical love story. In the movie, Emily’s father, played by Ray Romano, says, “Love isn’t easy that’s why they call it love.” It’s no “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” but it makes way more sense. The entire movie is like this. It’s not the most romantic movie in the traditional sense, but from a real-world point of view it’s perfect.