“The Big Sick” – RX for Romantics

the big sick movie

About a year ago, I attended a screening of a blockbuster movie at a major studio. (yes, I am being very vague to not insult anyone.)

One of the studio heads spoke about the direction of feature films: more action, more superheroes, and classic animation turned live action.

And then he said, “Sorry, no more Rom Com. They don’t make money.

Well, my fellow Romantics, let’s all give Kumail Nanjiani and his lovely wife Emily V. Gordon a round of applause for hopefully erasing that sentiment.  With a production budget of 5 million, a 12 million acquisition by Amazon/Lionsgate leading up to a box office total of 55 million, The Big Sick is one of the highest-grossing independent films of 2017.

No doubt due to the compelling (true) story, wonderful writing, fabulous cast and the crazy cute couple behind the whole thing. Kumail and Emily demonstrate just how cute as we sit and chat the evening they accept the Best Screenwriting Award from the Orange County Film Society.

Emily gestures to her husband with whimsy and pride and Kumail responds with humor and appreciation. The ease in which they play off each other explains a lot.

“Leading Man, leading romantic lead.”

“Oh stop it.”

“Is that how you say it?”

“Leading romantic lead? Yeah that may be it.”

“What’s interesting is that when we were making the movie we never once thought of it as a Rom-Com.  I think I was thinking of it as a romantic family comedy/drama because to me it’s about these two families negotiating.  And then when we started, they were showing us what they were going to put out as a trailer and like getting our thoughts on it, I was like ‘oh, this is a Rom-Com.’ It had never occurred to us.”

“I think sometimes you don’t understand what it is you’re making until it’s already done and you’re watching it and you’re like ‘oh that’s what we made’  So it’s a little bit of that, because we just wanted to make a movie to tell a version of our story…we knew how we wanted to tell it and we had amazing people we worked with to tell it, and then it was later that when people saw it they were like ‘oh you guys made a Rom-Com’  We did not know that’s what it was.  I am also really wary whenever people are like ‘this genre is dead’ or whatever. No genre is dead.”

“They’re sleeping, the genre’s sleeping.”

“They’re just sleeping, yea.”

Ironic since sleeping factors hugely into this tale.  If you don’t know, The Big Sick follows the couple through the first few harrowing months of their relationship, falling in love, him hiding her from ‘his’ parents, breaking up, and then the kicker… she gets sick, so sick she must be put into a medically induced coma.


“What’s great for a couple is to go back and write your origin story from each other’s perspective. Like that’s a good… I was a couples and family therapist before this, that’s a good exercise for any couple to do.  Because you get kind of, not only does it bring back like fond memories of ‘when we met and fell in love’ but it also causes you, you have to think about the other person’s perspective.  And I think that’s always really really interesting to do and a really good exercise overall.”

“Yea, it actually brought us closer together because suddenly we understood each other’s perspective more, but also, I think we just work well together.  Like, we obviously had disagreements…”

“We argued quite a bit, yea… but they were spirited.”

“Yea and I think we both are…our styles complement each other really well. Our strengths and our weaknesses work well together.  We were a good writing team.”

“You keep saying were, we still are.”

“We are we’re still working on stuff.”

Good news indeed.  The openness and ease in which Kumail share their story leads me to ask Emily an offbeat question …did she remember anything from the coma….

“I am so happy that you asked that, I had dreams the whole time. And I was kind of fighting…this was stuff we couldn’t put in the movie because it was too weird. I was kind of fighting my way out of it as much as I could. I knew what the lights above me looked like and I knew my mother was there, I could hear her voice.  And so, I knew that Kumail was there, but I thought Kumail was in the hospital and I was there to help…

“She was in this weird dream state.”

“So I kept… and at the time I worked in an asylum for very mentally ill people, and I thought I was in an asylum at one point.  And I was like ‘oh, I’ll have to figure out a way to get out of here, I got it’”

“Our strengths and our weaknesses work well together.  We were a good writing team.”

“But I wasn’t like freaked out and like I have to contact the outside world, I was just like ‘it’s cool, I’m going to ride this out. I’ll figure out how to get out of here. Everything will be fine.’  I don’t know what other people’s experience is like in a medically induced coma but in mine, I did have awareness of what was around me. But no sense of pain”

(Kumail wryly laughing)  “She said…she claims…didn’t seem like you knew what was going on”

“Didn’t feel like it sometimes.”

Their banter,  of course, prompts me to say “she heard everything you said”

“I said only nice things”

Of this, I have no doubt.

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Maria Hall-Brown
Maria Hall-Brown

Maria Hall-Brown joined PBS SoCal (KOCE) in July of 1997. She is the Executive Producer for Arts and Cultural Programming, and the producer/host of the weekly program LAaRT. In addition, she recently produced the first documentary film about cultural visionary/philanthropist, Henry T. Segerstrom: Imagining the Future. Other documentaries include: Be Brave: Samantha’s Story, Matters of Faith, Bulgarian Rhapsody, and Notes from Europe, as well as many holiday specials. For 16 years Maria worked as producer/reporter for the nightly news program Real Orange and the producer/host of author interview series Bookmark. She has garnered two LA Area Emmys and six Golden Mike Awards by the Radio Television News Association for her work. A proud graduate of the University of California, Irvine, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2005. Maria is a passionate supporter of the Arts.

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