The Big Sick – Stand for Something

The Big Sick – Stand for Something
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The Big Sick – Stand for Something

There he is. The most racist, despicable man you can imagine. You want to say something. You have to say something.

Instead, you wait to act and continue eavesdropping on his conversation:  “You will break up with him immediately. I never want to see you with him ever again. I give you a lot of freedom Catherine, but bringing a black boy around here is unacceptable.”

Un.Be.Liev.Able. You scream “RACIST” as loud as you possibly can, throw a drink at this vile man, and storm out of the country club vowing to never return.

While this reaction is a tad much, both sides of the divided political spectrum would manage to agree that a father barring his white daughter from dating a black man is worthy of condemnation.

It’s nice to see unified belief until one considers that so many other races, cultures, and religions practice this exact form of exclusion without any complaint.

The Big Sick pointed out this contradiction. That’s the easy part. But when it came to actually unpacking the contradiction, The Big Sick opted for the safe space of familial assimilation challenges (always softened with humor).

Here’s what the film kinda sorta wanted to say:

The “Coexist” bumper sticker is the worst. It’s a naive notion held by well-meaning individuals that misses a fundamental point about mutually-exclusive claims – both claims can’t be right. This doesn’t mean that people from different cultures can’t get along (many ways of life are not actually mutually-exclusive). This does mean, however, that when the most important things in life come up, and there are two different answers from two different gods in two different books that are each believed to be the one, true word of God, “coexist” is no longer possible. This may be hard for non-believers to understand because they rarely (if ever) believe in anything as strongly (and meaningfully) as the most fervent religious devotees do.

It’s important to also understand that a similar type of zero sum battle can occur even when values aren’t divinely inspired. Like freedom to marry whoever you want. That is a Western value. Not everyone in the world holds that value (and not everyone in the West lives up to this value). And you can say that’s fine and that’s beautiful that diverse people do diverse things right up until the moment it’s not some far-away hypothetical. You, a white girl from Chicago, wants to marry a Muslim named Kumail and his family says, um, no. Not because you aren’t great. Not because you aren’t smart or pretty or cool or some other acceptable reason, as defined by your value system, for not wanting to marry someone. No, because you aren’t Muslim (feel free to insert black, white, tall, Jewish, Christian, a doctor). Is that right? Who is right? You can’t both be right. Either freedom to marry anybody is right, or necessity to marry within your culture is right. The Big Sick in the weakest possible way cast a vote for the former.

It would have been nice if the film presented good arguments for arranged marriages. Maybe the world will always be us (whatever group you are in) vs. them (everybody else) whenever the going gets tough. Maybe we are foolish for wanting integration and freedom. Just don’t think you can have it both ways. So if that white, country club father is really wrong, then so are the Jewish grandmothers beseeching their granddaughters to find a nice Jewish boy.

While The Big Sick dances around these questions, it doesn’t mean they are being ignored by everyone.

President Donald Trump:

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

“The Big Sick” did not make me THINK.

For a movie spending significant time focused on stand-up comedy, it’s disappointing how bland and unfunny the this-is-really-going-to-make-the-audience-laugh moments were.

They all failed in part because of how The Big Sick succeeded. The first 30% of the film set a tone the rest of the film failed to follow. When Kumail was courting Emily, the humor was natural and intelligent. It was entirely believable that two adults would talk and flirt and banter in just the way they did.

But once Emily was gone, The Big Sick repeatedly relied on intentionally awkward and unbelievable scenes. In isolation, these scenes weren’t funny. They were especially not funny when I had been led to believe that natural, intelligent humor would reign.

Take the example of Terry sleeping on Kumail’s floor. Terry starts divulging his darkest secret to Kumail. I don’t care if you haven’t slept for weeks, if your ex-girlfriend’s father begins talking about an affair, there is no way any human could say, “Let’s just talk about this in the morning.” I mean this had the potential to be the most unexpected and interesting conversation in Kumail’s entire life. Throw in the fact that Terry is silently screaming for some empathy. Throw in the fact that you have just been drawn together with this person due to the possible death of his daughter, the girl you love.

There’s certainly a way to make this scene funny. But turning Kumail into a six-year-old yelling the equivalent of “cooties” in the face of an uncomfortable discussion is not that way.

This error, unfortunately, fits right in line with the overall shortcoming of this film: The Big Sick dips its toes into very interesting topics, but doesn’t have the courage to go any further.

Sure, The Big Sick was still funny. Sure, it doesn’t have to be anything more. Just don’t get suckered into thinking it is merely because it tangentially touches important themes.

“The Big Sick” made me LAUGH.

That voice mail scene. So good.

We can romanticize the days of love letters. Just don’t forget the incredible power of connection our modern technology offers all of us.

“The Big Sick” made me CRY.

 

Adam Schaefer

Adam Schaefer

Adam likes banana flavoring more than bananas. His first R-rated movie was "Beverly Hills Cop 3." He is also a semi-famous somniloquist.
Adam Schaefer

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