Big Sick

The Filthy Critic - The Big Sick - Four FingersThe Big Sick is pretty damn good. Funny and likable, which is exactly how I described myself in my old Ashley Madison profile, and that profile got me so much interest from robots you wouldn’t believe. Like way more robo messages than anyone else got. I had my choice of a hundred fake e-mail accounts I could pretend were really girls. That’s how good The Big Sick is. 

One of the best things about it is how effortlessly it reminds us that, no matter where we come from, people are pretty much the same. That we’re all similar is not necessarily a good thing, because we’re mostly self-absorbed assholes with our hands down our pants more than they are reaching out to help others. We tend to be lazy, procrastinate, overvalue ourselves, get easily annoyed but more easily mollified, and generally just want everyone to do what we want.

However, to understand that people are basically the same assholes no matter where they’re from, is to be able to put cultural differences into perspective, and to shake off stereotypes. Too much effort in this country is spent demonizing entire cultures, thinking that people from other countries are of one mind, hate us, and are more organized and militant about their beliefs. Maybe a few people are, but it’s batshit insane to think entire populations are sitting around actively hating us and plotting revenge. That takes away from their time with hands down their pants.

They may look different, wear different clothes and worship different shit, but that’s because they’ve been on a different path that started thousands of years ago, in search of the same things as us: to have good food, to be loved and/or jerk off, to be left the fuck alone, to get drunk, to read and see stories that lift them out of their miserable insignificant existences, to have nicer shit than their neighbors and to force their kids to achieve all the goals they never did because they ran out of steam or were incompetent boobs.

It’s a damn shame we need good movies to remind us of this, but it’s not a damn shame The Big Sick is funny and, actually, sweet. Fuck, I don’t even like the word sweet when not applied to Fuegon, the red licorice flavored liqueur that can get you crosswise with gravity for $4 a bottle. But I think it correctly describes a movie where there are no bad people, just ones who are confused at varying levels. They all want the same thing, which is someone to love them, and they mostly have to defeat themselves to do it.

Stories require a conflict, and that falls into nine categories: man versus man, man versus THE MAN, man versus society, man versus nature, man versus machine, man versus fate, man versus supernatural, man versus self, and man versus drunken self. The Big Sick is mostly man versus self, but some of that is because of society. Fucking society. It’s always got its finger in the pie.

Kumail Najiani, a Pakistani-American comic from some show on HBO that rich people but not me can afford to watch, co-wrote The Big Sick with his wife, Emily Morgan, who is white. It’s based on the true story of their courtship, which was cemented while she lay comatose.  God, I can’t tell you the number of times I wished I dated a girl in a coma. They will let you hold their hands in public, and they never tell their friends you have a tiny dick or asked for a Cleveland Steamer, or at least a hand-towel from Spencer’s Gifts that commemorated one. I’ve tried, but hospitals are pretty much assholes about letting strangers into their rooms to take selfies with women in a vegetative state.

Mrs. Filthy says Nanjiani is a good-looking guy. I’ll take her word for it. I have no fucking clue what women find attractive. I’m much better at hitting upon exactly what disgusts them. Regardless of looks, though, he’s a pretty damn likable, unassuming and witty  guy, the sort I’d want to hang out with and watch Mad Max: Fury Road while eating an entire box of Little Debbie Star Crunches. Each. No sharing. I’d eventually get annoyed by all the trivia about the movie he knew, but until then: likable.

While a struggling comic in Chicago, Nanjiani meets and falls for a smart and acerbic woman (Wagner played by Zoe Kazan) who heckles him at a show. They bone. When it’s time for her to go home she calls Uber, and he’s the closest driver. It’s a funny bit.

The Filthy Critic - The Big Sick - Four FingersTurns out Nanjiani and Wagner really like each other, but what Nanjiani isn’t telling her is that he has no intentions of committing, no matter how in love he is. That’s because his parents--especially his fear-inducing mother--are pretty devout Muslims and cling to their Pakistani ways. They expect their son to marry a Muslim woman in an arranged marriage. That’s what their culture has done for 1400 years. It’s not an evil thing, not even a controlling thing. It’s just that, no matter where you’re from, people find comfort in tradition. It’s way harder to fuck up or question yourself when you just do what’s expected. During the movie we meet a few of the potential Pakistani brides and a couple of them are pretty fucking hot. Funny and smart, too.

When Morgan finally learns Nanjiani has been hiding this giant cultural turd in the pants of his love, she splits, angry and heartbroken. Soon after she becomes suddenly and horribly sick, and Nanjiani is asked by her friend to go to the emergency room and make sure everything goes okay. It doesn’t and he has to pretend he is her husband to sign off on her getting the treatment she needs, which includes an induced coma.

They’ve broken up, but Nanjiani and Morgan are connected, even if she is too unconscious to know it. He meets her parents, played by a really damn good and perfectly cast Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. Hunter is fierce. She’s like four feet tall and 85 pounds, but, man, is she ferociously determined. She’s also pissed at Nanjiani for breaking her daughter’s heart. Romano plays a somewhat-defeated middle-aged man, slumped shoulders, searching of some joy or love. It may be the character he was made to play. For a guy who ain’t much of an actor, he’s fantastic here.

Nanjiani lies to his family, about his religious devotion and about the white girl he’s dating. The longer she’s in a coma, though, and the more time he spends with her parents, the more in love he is. To the point that he musters the courage to break free of cultural restraints and declare openly his love. When Morgan recovers from her coma, he is going to tell her he will commit.

The thing is, Morgan is pretty fucking pragmatic. She understands there is a huge difference between someone being in love with a vegetable and a real woman. It’s pretty damn easy to romanticize your relationship with something that can’t talk back, believe me. I have fallen in love with a vacuum, two tree stumps and a sofa that never, ever hurt my feelings.

That Morgan is an entirely reasonable person is not to say the movie ends badly. It ends just fine, but Najiani and Morgan have to work at it. Because that’s how real love works. And that’s why this movie is so fucking good. It is about two real humans who should be together, and who manage to be through work, misery and a lot of damn good jokes. 

And it’s all handled so effortlessly that all I really noticed from Director Michael Showalter was how he doesn’t intrude. He lets his characters be human without forcing gags, plot points or reactions. 

There are two downsides to this movie. First, I saw it on a Friday afternoon when people of value have jobs to do, so the audience might have been skewed. But, this movie clearly appeals to an older audience. I’m not saying teenagers would like it: there are no boobs, no farts and no exploding cars. But I think it would play with anyone who still reads a physical newspaper. The movie also drags in the middle. There is only so much sitting around a hospital that I can take before I get bored and want to go mess with some of those machines hooked dup to patients that go beep-beep-beep, or disconnect an IV and take a sip.

Still, The Big Sick is a damn fine movie, one with actual laughs, and with the effortless reminder that everyone just wants to be loved, no matter how miserable that will ultimately make them. Four Fingers.