Film & Television

‘The Big Sick’ — One Mother of a Rom-Com

I could continue to praise The Big Sick as so many critics have done. Instead, I’d like to talk about two of its other important characters: their moms.

Kumail lives in a tatty apartment in Chicago with a fellow (less talented) comic. His parents live in the suburbs, in a handsome home on a cul-de-sac. We know this because one evening at dinner, Kumail comments on how odd it is that so many eligible young Pakistani women happen to be walking by. “Who could that be?” his mother coyly asks each evening when the doorbell rings. These aspiring brides come with their photo in hand and attempt to charm him, while his mother looks on approvingly.

Like the rest of the cast, Zenobia Shroff, who plays Kumail’s mother Sharmeen, is sharp and funny. It’s clear that no matter how traditional and purportedly patriarchal the family may appear, it’s Sharmeen who is in charge. She affectionately but constantly berates her husband and sons (Kumail’s brother Naveed is a better son, having complied with an arranged marriage and grown a proper Muslim beard). She’s determined and stubborn. Sharmeen refuses to leave the car when she and her husband drive into town to say good-bye to Kumail as he’s leaving for New York. He’s no longer in the family, she insists, although she did prepare a favorite food for his journey.

Shroff is originally from Mumbai, but has pursued an acting career in New York for the past 25 years. In her one-woman show Exotic Observations, she jokes about being sent out to audition for “ethnically ambiguous roles,” or as she puts it, “A polite way to say ‘Send the bitch out for everything that nobody else wants to go for and the bitch will go because the bitch needs the gig.’” The immigrant experience, especially in the almost entirely white world of show business, is powerful fodder for sarcastic cultural comedy. In The Big Sick, Kumail is working on a one-man show himself. His comic friends tell him it’s good; only Emily is honest enough to tell him that the show needs to be less about Pakistan’s history and more about himself.

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  • Lindsey Kinsella July 29, 2017 at 6:59 am

    I was looking forward to seeing this film until I read, ‘they actually do end up together’. Perhaps I’m naive, but is this a spoiler?