The Big Sick is so straightforwardly good that it’s hard for the snark-o-matic which we specialise in to get any real traction. It had me with the trailer, where Ray Romano’s character says “Yeah, I thought I could just start talking and something smart would come out.” This should be a footnote to just about every conversation I’ve ever had. It all just works. Kumail Nanjiani doesn’t have to act, since he’s playing himself, and everyone else is propping him up, since they actually can act. Zoe Kazan is adorable without being ridiculous or a manic pixie dream girl. And so on. It’s that rare movie which I’ve seen twice and got something different from on each showing. The first time, I was just laughing, but the second time around, whether it was me or the movie, I was picking up on a lot more of the emotion on display.
There are great funny moments, including the world’s most awkward conversation about 9/11, but if it was just a collection of funny lines, it wouldn’t be much of a movie. It works because you want the people to be happy. The closing scene just nails it. Maybe it’s a little bit too Hollywood after what’s gone before, but it still works for me.
The one question in my mind is whether it’s a better movie if you don’t know what’s going to happen. It would take a mighty effort not to know, since it’s based on a true story and the trailer leads with the big twist; the only way they could be more upfront about Emily going into a coma would be if they used Morrissey as backing music. Thing is, knowing that Emily is going into a coma, I spent the whole front half of the movie wondering if this was going to be the moment, or this, or this … When was the coma shoe going to drop? It was almost a relief when it did. Whereas if I’d somehow managed to go in blind, would the coma have been a dreadful shock? Right up until then there’s no real foreshadowing, and it just looks like a simple minded romantic comedy. Then, wham, coma.
In reality I don’t know how you could make it as big a shock for the audience as it must have been for the people it actually happened to. You can make it matter - and the movie does - but I don’t think you could can make it shocking. It’s such an extraordinary story and we live now in such an arbitrarily connected world that true surprise is effectively impossible in mass entertainment. We just have to wait for it to creep up and hit us in real life, which isn’t scripted.