The Big Sick Review: I Finally Saw It! Finally, a Rom-Com That Feels Real

Yes, after years of resistance, I finally saw it, because my parents tied me down and made me watch it. And it is very very good, I never doubted that, but it also made me think, which is exhausting. Thinking, BLEH!

The first thing that really stood out for me about this movie was that, for once, I am seeing life as I know it up on screen. Sitcoms, rom-coms, they all have young people with things like “jobs” who go on things called “dates”, and I have never known anyone to do that. A guy who is an Uber driver while trying to make it as a performer, and a girl in grad school, that fits with my experience of the modern 20-something. And hanging out watching weird movies together in scuzzy apartments is what a “date” is. No one gets dressed up, no one wears make-up, no one schedules stuff way in advance. The whole “I have to buy a new dress because I have a dinner date next Saturday” is just WEIRD. And it shows up everywhere! Like pop culture has never met a real young person.

Watch The Big Sick | Prime Video

But in this movie, it’s two young people with no money hanging out and laughing at movies at random times after they text each other to hang out. No one dresses up, no one plans things in advance, you can’t do that anyway because no one has any money or regular work schedule. That’s so refreshing! And it makes me retroactively angry at all the other pop culture products who just don’t GET it.

Other things to like in the film that stood out a lot less for me, the really good dialogue. The conversations our young couple have aren’t angsty overly romantic things, they are nice funny hang out conversations. Again, I didn’t realize how long it had been since I saw a movie where the dialogue felt like a conversation instead of a series of declarative sentences traded between two people. I’d forgotten that’s what a movie could be like! And I’d never seen something like that for my generation, I’m used to watching When Harry Met Sally or Tootsie or something and doing that kind of slide to the left to translate it all from back then to my context.

Also, the natural look to the characters. Which goes back to the realism. It’s not that everyone in Hollywood rom-coms is super super shockingly beautiful, but it is that they are styled and made-up and perfectly lit and so on until they become otherworldly. In this movie, it’s just two young people in sweats in a dim apartment. They look like people, not ideals. And again, that’s something that used to be! When I think about 70s-80s-early 90s romances, they did that, they had casual hang out looks. And now it’s all perfect perfect perfect. I don’t get it.

The Big Sick': Finally, Hollywood gets a comedy right

Finally, what makes this really stand out, is that it is less of a “romance” and more of a “relationships and emotions narrative”. This is something I noticed when I first started researching fans of Indian movies for my thesis. It’s not the “romance” that brings them in, it is that it is a narrative based on relationships. Whether that is mother-son, or brother-brother, or friend-friend, the conflict comes from that, not from explosions and blah blah. This movie is about two people falling in love and being in love. But it is also about how this new relationship and emotion effects all the people they already have in their life. There is no dumb external issue like “and he’s lying about who he is for a magazine article!”, it’s just life and people. The romance is the catalyst for a lot of really interesting statements on a lot of really interesting things.

Sleepless in Seattle, that was about aging and parenting and grief and settling for something less than perfect because you have lost faith in perfect existing. When Harry Met Sally, that was about how people change in surprising ways as they grow up. And so on and so forth, the classic rom-coms, the ones that started the trend up in the late 80s/early 90s, they were about real things in life, universal things, outside of the central love story.

In this movie, the romance is a catalyst for thinking about family, about parents, about culture, about what you want in life, about all sorts of things. It’s a good rom-com, and it’s also a good movie about American culture and family and so on, and those two things go together. Love is a stone that ripples out and changes everything about your life around you, a good romance shows all those ripples, not just the stone.

18 thoughts on “The Big Sick Review: I Finally Saw It! Finally, a Rom-Com That Feels Real

    • YES! Thank you!!!! This is why I avoided watching it for so many years and was so stressed watching it last night! It’s not because I thought it would be bad, it’s because I knew it would be good. And all those people saying “ooo, you should see it, because it’s about the diaspora and cross-cultural romances and stuff” just made me go “no! I spend all day thinking about that! I want a break!”

      Happy ending in the end and all of that, but yeah, it’s real enough that I’m watching it going “there is no true happy ending here, his family is always going to be a problem on some level”.

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        • Speaking of, we have been debating, what is the backstory you would invent for Vijay Holding an Angry Cat? I am going with “the cat is the reincarnation of his lover/mother/brother/father/enemy”

          On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 12:06 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That is a good one. I think the cat is the heroines treaused pet and the baddies kidnapped it to lure the heroine so they could kidnap her, and now Vijay has freed the cat and is freeing her, holding the cat.

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          • At some point, can he swing the cat by its tail like a weapon? (I am not a cat lover)

            On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 12:20 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Is this cat perhaps an incarnation of Krishna? Because I would be down with that.

            On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 12:25 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Great, she can name the cat Krishna, and he can kind of communicate and be wise and guide them, and then at the end he can go home to find out the neighbor’s cat just had kittens, what’s her name, “Radha”, and then everyone laughs and the cat winks at the camera.

            On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 1:04 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I like to think that Vijay – Ram found this cat after he droped Jaanu at the airport. He believes the cat is Jaanu, and refuses to let him go. Now instead of being a travel photographer, he travels and takes only photos of him with the cat in the most interesting places.

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  1. I don’t particularly like Kumail, bumpy or buff. But I liked this film, what I remember of it. And I think it has a happy ending, or at least, not a sad one. You can assume all will be well when she attands his performance. But sorry Margaret. Even tho it’s supposed to be a true story, I did find it a bit sitcom-y, the censorious parents, the quippy humor, and the tah-dah, obscure medical discovery. But it’s worth a watch for anyone who hasn’t seen it and wants a respite from soaring dance numbers, car chases, and no-kiss love affairs.
    And BTW, what is it with these “almost but never” Indian love scenes? I know there’s a good amount of tongue-slapping in current movies and series, but in past films 80’s and 90’s, and even some made in 2020, NOBODY KISSES. Man hands stroke bare female midriffs, lips graze throats, and occasionally, very occasionally, mouths appear to meet behind strategic head blocks. This confounding sterility is less frequent in Hindi films, but the chaste kiss aboard the swan boat in Bahibaali sent Twitter raving. It’s a real dicohtomy.

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    • I will give them the medical part of it, because I think that is 100% accurate, and sometimes it does just work out like that (I know at least two young people who had almost-died ICU experiences and then bounced back. One had MRSA and one had antibiotic resistant pneumonia. But they were young, so once the underlying issue was under control, they went home all totally fine). But I agree about the parents, I suspect they softened quite a few rough edges in how the family stuff played out.

      I have a theory/explanation for the kisses! It’s really logical the way I think about it. The question is what is the character doing versus what is the actor doing. Sex scenes, audiences are logical, they know that all that touching and lip grazing is, practically speaking, no more contact than you would have at a dance class. It’s just filmed all slow motion and softly lit to feel like sex. But the Bahubali kiss was straight up actual lips touching. That is a physical contact that the actors are doing that you would not do with a co-worker under normal circumstances. It’s not the characters, who cares if the characters have sex or whatever, it’s the actors and what they are doing.

      Once I think about it like that, I kind of like it. Because on the flip side, what is up with western culture requiring actors to kiss so casually? Why can’t they say “sorry, I’m just not comfortable with that” and have a back-of-the-head cheat shot instead?

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  2. Your “actors vs the parts they play” theory makes sense, especially in Indian culture.

    And speaking of the culture, I often wonder about infidelity. Many if not most of the stars marry early and have two or more children. They post pics of their wives/hubbies and kids on vacations and holidays, at the pool and birthday parties, anniversaries or just because. A happy, VISIBLE marriage appears necessary for popularity. (Salman and the “bad boys” and “bad girls” are an anomaly.) Yet, in all the news and gossip sites I follow, fans view their favorite stars as flexible when it comes to love. I don’t mean the guys who throw money at Rajinikanth, or go wild outside Manat (is that still a thing?) I mean the women who write to Allu Arjun, on paper the most unorious of men, threatening to kill themselves if they can’t sleep with (not marry) him. A man obsessed with one married actress, offered her a luxurious weekend in Paris, no strings, and said he’d send his jet. These are not isolated incidents; they’re all over media, which makes me think that Indian fans truly believe the objects of their lust are easy.

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    • I think that is the case. If you are willing to live a public life as a movie star, you are seen as basically less moral than the rest of society. I believe it is ultimately a class divide. The wealthy urban people live in a world that is a lot like what we are used to in the west. They get divorces, they date before marriage, and so on and so forth. But the rest of society is still living a life where marriages are arranged and divorce is unheard of. So seeing something like Hrithik and Sussanne getting a divorce, or Deepika dating Ranbir and then Ranveer, means they must have no rules, they must be open and available for anything. Most wealthy people live their lives privately so the general Indian public has no idea of their behavior, but the celebs have to live their life in public so they become a symbol for everything that is wrong in society. If an actress dated publicly before marriage, then she will be willing to sleep with you for money after marriage. Those two things are seen as equal because they are both completely outside the realm of what a “normal” Indian woman would do.

      On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 at 12:40 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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