the big sick reminds us why we shouldn’t pull the plug on rom-coms

Remember the good ole days when romantic comedies used to rule the world? (Sorry Beyoncé!) I’m talking about the days of the Roberts, the Bullocks, the Barrymores, heck, even the Grants! Romantic comedies used to be a staple for Hollywood studios mainly due to their easy marketability and low production costs. Rom-coms were the perfect date night movie, girls-night-out event, or just simple escapism for most Americans. Well, those days are long gone, in fact, the last time a romantic comedy was in the top 20 of the yearly box office was back in 2009 with Sandra Bullock’s The Proposal (#queenofromcoms). So what happened? Is the genre at risk of extinction? Should it be saved? The Big Sick made an incredible case for the dying genre.

The Big Sick is a romantic comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. Kumail is a stand-up comedian and actor who wrote the script along with his wife Emily V. Gordon loosely based on their real-life romance. The story centers on Kumail, a Pakistani comic who meets and quickly enamors Emily, a witty, wide-eyed American graduate student. As their relationship develops, he becomes worried about the reaction of his traditional Muslim parents, as they clearly want him to marry a Pakistani woman. Keeping his relationship secretive creates friction between the couple. When Emily suddenly develops an infection that renders her in a medically-induced coma, Kumail connects with Emily’s parents and this critical time allows him to have some important realizations about love, his family, and his career.

As I do with my reviews, I took a notebook to the showing to write key moments, thoughts, and commentary. By far, the most used word in my notes was “chemistry.” In fact, chemistry, is arguably the most important quality of a successful rom-com. Think about the movie Pretty Woman, one of the most successful romantic comedies of all time. Now imagine it staring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Yikes! Chemistry can make-or-break a movie and The Big Sick reminded me of this. Every time Kumail stared at Emily, every time she quickly and coyly retorted, overall, every time they were together on-screen, it was infectious, you wanted more. The chemistry that the two leads delivered made me realized that the rom-com genre is still worth saving.

I’ll start by saying that I understand people’s hesitations towards rom-coms. The reason why I think the rom-com genre is dying is that adults in the 21st century are slightly cynical towards the idea of love. Or rather, they are cynical towards Hollywood’s ideals of love. Themes and concepts like those of the “perfect relationship” or the “fairytale ending” are unrealistic, especially for the Tinder generation. The idea of finding “the one” sounds like a dated concept on its own right, now imagine stretching that into 110 minutes?

The reason why The Big Sick worked so well as a romantic comedy is the fact that the leads were unconventional, their love story wasn’t perfect, and the ending, while satisfying, wasn’t your typical “grand romantic gesture” final act. Perhaps, rather than trying to keep rom-coms alive, the focus should shift to redefining the genre. By keeping all the basic elements that work and adding new, relevant concepts and ideas, the dying genre will be able to be put off life support.

The things that work:

  • Chemistry
  • Romance
  • Conflict
  • Scene-stealing supporting roles
  • A clear, satisfying conclusion

The 21st century add-ons:

  • Diversity
  • Undefined gender roles
  • Relevant point of views
  • A healthy, mature look at sex
  • Taking the viewer seriously

The Big Sick has all the elements I stated above. The scene-stealing performances came at you from all sides of the film. From Kumail’s charismatic family, to his comedian friends, to Emily’s perfectly casted parents, everyone had a chance to shine. Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Bo Burnham, and SNL’s Aidy Bryant in particular remind you of the importance of shifting the focus to different points of view. The diversity adds a relevant flair that makes the movie feel real, earnest. But in the end, by not having that fairytale ending, Kumail shows you that he understands, modern-day romance does not have a “one size fits all” ending.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am unapologetically a hopeless romantic (why i hate (and love) being a hopeless romantic). Naturally, I am an avid rom-com fan. When I watched The Big Sick I was reminded of the fact that love is a driving force in my life. A force that I refuse to ignore and that I envision for myself. Having a movie remind you of your inner, most vulnerable qualities is a gift that should not be silenced. In order for the genre to reach a modern renaissance, we as an audience, must reject tired clichés and demand the quality we deserve. Having movies like The Big Sick succeed critically and commercially sends a strong message to Hollywood. We will not let the genre die, but as ticket-paying entities, we will be taken seriously.

Ben Koepp



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