I usually shy away from writing movie reviews because I’m terrible at dealing with the spoiler issue. It’s either “Oh, it was so good, and their use of Foley was amazing” or “It was brilliant, and that bit at the end when he accidentally kills….”, so you can see the problem.
BUT… I just knew I had to write about The Big Sick. I was lucky enough to see it at a surprise screening a couple of weeks ago (Odeon Screen Unseen – if you live near an Odeon cinema and love surprises, this is definitely for you!) and, as always, put out my little 140 character review on Twitter. However, there are so many themes in The Big Sick that will resonate with chronically ill people and those who are close to us chronically ill folks that I thought I would attempt to write a review that would shed a little more light on why I enjoyed the film so much.
(Scroll to the bottom of the post for the trailer…)
Let me begin by saying that I’m not a fan of romantic comedies, so if you were thinking of avoiding the film because of that loaded tag, fear not – this really isn’t a romcom in the traditional sense of the word. And, with this being based on actual events, bizarrely conceived characters and awkwardly scripted relationships are thankfully absent.
Comedy is truly at the heart of the movie as the lead character, Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani) is actually a stand-up comedian, but the humour itself is very multi-layered and cleverly crafted. There are moments that create what I call the ‘jaw drop smile’, where you’re shocked but not too shocked to find the situation amusing, as well as points that are riotously laugh-out-loud funny: there was one comment in particular where the entire audience exploded in such cacophonous laughter that we missed the next two jokes.
But intertwined with all of this humour is the drama of dealing with a poorly understood and truly frightening illness. The way events orbit around the issue of the mystery ailment is why I believe so many people with chronic disorders will be able to relate.
Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), the person who is actually ill, is in a coma for the majority of the movie (this is not a spoiler – we’re shown this fact in the trailer!) but even though she is not the one dealing with the day to day aspects of her medical care, there are still so many elements that the chronically ill, and those who care for someone chronically ill, will recognise.
- The doctors who are seemingly incapable of using layman’s terms. We’ve all met those consultants who use words that you can’t even spell let alone understand. There are a couple of incredibly accurate scenes where Emily’s father (played by Ray Romano) is frantically trying write down all the medical terms being thrown at him so he can look them up at a later point. It’s true that we all get comfortable using language that is the most logical for our everyday existence, but surely someone should make the point that if a patient isn’t using the same semantics as the doctor, maybe the doctor should alter their communication somewhat?
- The strangely disjointed medical ‘team’. I know this one is a bugbear for medical personnel, but for those of us that are ill, it is extremely frustrating to be viewed as a biochemical jigsaw puzzle rather than a complete eco system. In the movie we see several instances where a consultant meets with the family, blasts out a load of medical jargon (some of which directly contradicts what the previous consultant had said minutes earlier) and leaves, merely adding to the confusion and distress. To put it bluntly: do they really believe there are fifteen different things wrong with the patient, or could there be an overarching pathology causing a cascade of system failures?
- The incredible amount of guesswork. “We’ll constantly say you have This until we decide you have That.” This happens so much that I could write about guesstimated diagnoses until the cows come home. This is reflected so well in The Big Sick with treatments being rejected almost as fast as they are accepted, along with a fair amount of reassertion of the doctors’ expertise despite them not being able to fully understand why the patient is reacting in such a way. We are often told one thing until our symptoms no longer fit into that box (is my Fibromyalgia the cause, or is something causing my Fibromyalgia?) and then it’s anyone’s guess if we will get the right treatment.
I do spend a lot of time at the cinema (it is my sanctuary) and, due to the way I chose what to see, most of the movies I watch I do enjoy (Batman V Superman was an unfortunate anomaly…) but more than just enjoying The Big Sick, I was SO GLAD I’d seen it. Glad because being ill can be extremely isolating, and witnessing other people experiencing so many of the things we have to deal with, the things that make us feel as though we’re losing our minds or overreacting, shows us that we are not really alone in our ordeal – and, perhaps more importantly, allows other people to get a glimpse behind the curtain of chronic illness and see what life is like for those of us who are sick and for the ones who care for us.
I’m pretty sure that was spoiler free…