What if we fall in love with someone that does not meet our family’s traditional standards? The Big Sick, playing at Cornell Cinema this weekend, explores on this question hilariously and gracefully.
Kumail is a stand-up comedian and Uber driver in Chicago. An immigrant from Pakistan, Kumail is supposed to marry a Pakastani woman. Every time he goes to dinner at his parents’ house, a Pakastani woman “just drops in” to join the family for dinner. Both his parents and his brother had arranged marriages. Kumail explains in the film that in Pakistan, “there is marriage and love marriage;” the norm is arranged marriages.
At a family dinner, Kumail’s mother talks about their cousin who married “a white girl” and has a baby. Kumail’s family agreed that that baby “would grow up very unhappy and no one would visit it and it would have no family.” His family is engrossed in Pakastani tradition. Anyone who disrespects or rejects a part of their culture is banished from the family.
Kumail loves his family and Pakastani culture but does not believe in all of their traditions. Kumail’s family also longs for him to become a doctor or lawyer instead of a stand-up comedian. We also see Kumail’s struggles to be a Pakastani immigrant in post-9/11 United States. Kumail is asked about his “stance on 9/11,” and also told to “return to ISIS.”
One night during Kumail’s stand-up bit, a young woman named Emily “woo-hoos” him from the crowd. After the show, Kumail and Emily talk, and eventually develop a romantic connection. Both are not looking for anything serious, so they agree to never see each other again. Unsurprisingly, they keep on seeing each other. Cue the romantic montage.
Kumail and Emily begin to develop serious feelings for each other. Emily wants Kumail to meet her parents, but Kumail knows Emily could not meet his. He was still meeting a Pakastani woman every time he went to dinner at his parents’ house.
Eventually, Kumail mentions Emily to his brother, Naveed. His brother understood “hanging around other girls” and “experiencing America,” but he stressed the importance of marrying another Pakastani woman. Naveed married a Pakastani woman named Fatama, and in the first few months barely spoke two words to her but now sees her as a best friend. Naveed also reasoned with Kumail that their mother would love him less and that Kumail had to “end it now or Mom will fucking ghost you.”
Though he does not plan to end it, Kumail and Emily get into a big fight surrounding Kumail’s family’s culture. Shortly after, Emily gets very sick. Kumail is there the whole time, getting roped into signing forms for her as her “husband.” While he waits by her side, hoping she’ll recover, he bonds with her parents. Kumail must find a way to be accepted by his family and also win Emily back, if she survives her illness.
Kumail Nanjiani’s true story is not only hysterically funny, but interesting and uplifting. The Big Sick’s jokes are very relatable to young people’s everyday lives. Uber, texting language, sexiled roommates, family relations, and more all leave the audience laughing.
Becky Frank is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.