I somehow always end up enjoying Judd Apatow stuff, whether or not I intend to (PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Love, Girls). His work possesses this addictive quality of sincerity embedded deep within the ostensible superficiality of modern relationships. What always makes me iffy about his previous work is its lack of diversity in terms of race and socioeconomics. The Big Sick is refreshingly different from his previous works. It features, at the forefront, a very specific and frank discussion about Kumail, an immigrant Pakistani man who straddles between appeasing his family and his desire to pursue love. His family follows the tradition of arranged marriage. He goes along with his mother’s appointments with young Pakistani women, opting to not tell them of his unorthodox ways, like the fact that he’s secretly dating a white woman. He also doesn’t pray and he isn’t serious about becoming a lawyer, much to his parents’ consternation.
The Big Sick hits on the themes of immigrant family tension and familial sacrifice. Yet it’s not a commentary movie. It’s a warm, semi-autobiographical movie that tells the story of a person, Kumail. The film paints an intricate portrait of how his family traditions impact his career and his relationship. That said, it’s a not one-dimensional or straightforward ethnography, which makes this film a brilliant piece of work about a person of color. It has elements about family but it is not solely about family. In a lot of the film, we see Kumail befriending his ex-girlfriend’s family and learning how to deal with the precariousness of her coma condition by leaning on people who are virtually strangers. The film’s greatest strength lies not in the romantic part (the love interest, after all, is in a coma for half the movie), but the comedy part. In the film, comedy emerges as a tool. Its sole purpose isn’t to product cheap laughs but to break tension and to help the protagonist and the people in his life cope with the pain and uncertainty in their lives.