The Big Sick: Redefining the Romantic Comedy

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The Big Sick: Redefining the Romantic Comedy

A stagnant career as a comedian, a forcefully traditional Pakistani family, and a blossoming romance turned sour by a spreading infection. This romantic comedy is anything but what we expect from the genre.

This 2017 Best Screenplay nominee surprised audiences by offering a unique spin on the romcom genre. Penned by the Pakistani-American comic, Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, writer and podcaster, Emily Gordon, The Big Sick tells the true story of how the Hollywood couple met, fell in love, and married despite their vast cultural differences and Emily’s life-threatening disease that left her in a medically induced coma.

The Story Scanner picks up on the significant scenes by highlighting the four most important sequences of the film. Scenes 18-28 are the most important as they show a montage of Emily and Kumail falling in love as well as their first big fight as Kumail discovers that Emily used to be married. These scenes juxtapose each other with the highs and lows of dating.

Scenes 44-52 fall second on the scale. It is within these scenes that we initially see Kumail and Emily break up Emily finds a cigar box filled with potential wives arranged by Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents. Kumail continues pursuing his stand-up career while going on dates with women his parents have set him up with. Then, just as he lands a gig at the Montreal Showcase, a massive comedy festival, Kumail gets a call from Emily’s roommate that she’s in the hospital. Once Kumail has reached his highest point, he is immediately torn down by life’s uncaring chaos.

Scenes 86-93 make up the next most important sequence, a beat where Kumail and Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, are informed by the doctor’s that Emily is not responding to her treatment as her infection spread to her kidneys. This causes a rift between Beth and Terry, where Beth wants to move Emily to a hospital with a higher rating, a move the nurses warn against as it could cost Emily her life. The fight ends with Beth leaving and Kumail offering his apartment to Terry for the night where the men get to truly bond for the first time since Emily’s illness.

Finally, scenes 5-9 are Kumail and Emily’s first date that ends with two both agreeing their encounter was a one-night stand and they aren’t going to see each other again. An agreement that quickly becomes void as the two continue to hook up.

The Big Sick makes prominent use of very few locations as it weaves the story. With 91.3% internal scenes compared to a meager 8.73% external (Fig 1), an already slim budget of $5 million was used to its fullest extent. As we follow Kumail’s story, you can see a shift in character appearances. Towards the middle of the film, at scene 58 where Emily has been put into a coma and her appearances begin to decrease, her parents are introduced and begin to have a major influence on the story (Fig 2). We can also see how Kumail’s friends, family, and Emily’s family have no scenes together except towards the very end when Kumail and his friends leave for New York and his family drops by to send him off.

Fig 1:
Fig 2:

Falling in line with standard comedy trends, The Big Sick has 79.2% dialogue and 20.8% action as the film is carried by its quick wit and character interactions (Fig 3). Kumail, our focal character appears 31.2% of the time and holds 38.3% of the dialogue while Emily, a driving character and major source of Kumail’s journey appears 15% of the time and provides 14.8% of the dialogue. Terry and Beth, two more driving characters appear 11.2% and 8.53$ with 11% and 7.5% dialogue, respectively. Kumail’s friends and family become contextual characters with their minimal appearances and sprinkled dialogue (Fig 4 and 5). This delegation of appearance and dialogue ensures that Kumail is fluctuating his interactions with every character as they push him along his career or personal life.

Fig 3:

Fig 4:

Fig 5:

Mentioned earlier, the “falling in love” montage can be visualized within the scene by scene breakdown of dialogue and action. At scenes 18-26, we see a dialogue free montage of Kumail and Emily spending time together at their apartments as well as Kumail putting up with his family’s arranged dates and tossing the headshots of his prospective wives into a cigar box, a plant that later pays off when Emily discovers the box and leads to their initial break up (Fig 6).

Fig 6:

The Big Sick is truly a unique addition to the romantic comedy genre. It doesn’t rely on unrealistic story beats or frustrating tropes and instead tells a very real story of two people falling in love despite the world throwing them into chaos. With a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and an impressive Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay combined with a conscious budget, The Big Sick was able to turn its $5 million budget into an impressive $56.3 million box office success despite having a limited release.

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