This post contains spoilers for the entirety of The Big Sick.
Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick is one of the year’s most satisfying romantic comedies—but it’s something else, too. Written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon about their rocky real-life courtship, the film is a remarkable achievement for the depth of its unusual B-plot: the fictional Kumail’s relationship with his future in-laws (played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano). It’s a singularly textured and honest portrayal, especially within Asian American pop culture, of the importance of parents in adulthood—as well as a candid look at the need to negotiate familial relationships when they become too dysfunctional.
A pharmaceutical lab’s worth of chemistry binds Nanjiani (who plays himself) and Zoe Kazan (who plays Emily), giving the first act its easygoing sweetness. But The Big Sick truly distinguishes itself when Kumail meets Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, about 45 minutes in. After five months of dating, Emily discovers in her boyfriend’s room a yearbook page’s worth of photos: headshots of women that Kumail’s mother had introduced to her younger son in hopes of arranging a marriage. Seeing no future for them as a couple, Emily breaks things off. Shortly after, she lands in the hospital, where she’s placed in a medically induced coma. Reeling from the sudden severity of their daughter’s condition (and fully aware of Kumail’s photo collection), Beth and Terry initially swat their daughter’s ex away like a fly.