“The Big Sick” was written by the couple it centres around (bar a name change here and there). Uncharacteristically for a “true story” film (especially one in the romcom genre), the film doggedly avoids easy sentimentality, it even avoids contrivances wherever possible.
It commits to the “com” in “romcom”, never ladling maudlin sentimentality over a cast of characters so full of comedians. At the same time, while the Apatow-esque shaggy improvisational style does happen in scenes with the comedian characters, the film never conflates its other characters with the same sense of humour, there’s no hazy “all characters talk the same” style quippery here, but solid humour backed up by solid characterisations. The film manages the tricky task of being both a sardonic comedy and an earnest romance all at once, without being a mess of tone.
What’s fascinating about the film structurally is how it stretches out the “complication in the relationship, couple breaks up” story beat of a romcom into the majority of the runtime, with Holly Hunter and Ray Romana’s parent characters taking the lead away from the woman forming half of the relationship the film is about. Defining so much of the film through the negative space of this character, a lady absent from two thirds of the film, melts away so much of what’s familiar and dull about romcoms, and plays very well with the earnest (if not explicitly honest – the script takes liberties with the real-life relationship it’s based on for well-executed dramatic effect, keeping the film feeling like a story, a movie, not just an indulgent anecdote) approach. The Pakastani insights also play nicely with this. Warping the pacing of a romcom in this way just naturally melts away so many contrivances, and refocuses the story on a more interesting, original approach to the genre. This extends to the film’s treatment of the woman at the centre of the film, which it does its best not to sideline even though she’s absent for the majority of it, validating her experiences and avoiding making her emotions and reactions a prop for the protagonist.
A very, very well-done romcom, sailing high above its genre peers. Three and a half word games, and a piece of chalk to throw at Jimmy.