Refreshing Insights: A Few Minutes with Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani of ‘The Big Sick’

Posted in Interviews by - June 29, 2017
Refreshing Insights: A Few Minutes with Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani of ‘The Big Sick’

With different perspectives comes different stories – ones infrequently seen on the big screen.

The Big Sick is one of those rare, refreshing tales. A romantic comedy interrupted by some real life despair, this film from personal and professional couple Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani is at times awkward, often hysterical, and always genuine.

The pair sat down with journalists in Toronto ahead of the film’s June 30th release, and agreed that about 60% of the film is based on their actual experiences. “We were told not be precious with our own lives, very much to take this from being our story to a story,” said Gordon, who like Nanjiani, praised the support and influence wielded by producer Judd Apatow.

“We were encouraged talk about anything we wanted,” said Nanjiani. “Just it in if it’s something that should be part of the story. Make it messy, make it complicated, make the characters disagree. You don’t have to resolve all of these. The answers aren’t important: it’s the questions that are important. Showing the struggles are important. You don’t need to show any kind of conclusion. It was really great to make a movie where we could pour in what we wanted.”

The story follows the courtship of Kumail (who plays himself) and Emily (played by Zoe Kazan), as the former deals with his Muslim Pakistani family that is trying to arrange a marriage for him, as his culture dictates, while the latter has a sudden medical emergency. That is, Emily falls into a coma. And that’s after they break up – and Emily’s parents arrive at the hospital, and they already aren’t too happy with what they’ve heard of Kumail.

“It was interesting, every time we found we had a disagreement about how we experience something from our past, we tried to put both perspectives into the movie,” explained Gordon. So often women, or whoever is not the lead, get sidelined. This is Kumail’s journey but Emily is a full person and has perspective. So anytime we disagree, it gets put into the script.”

That’s what makes The Big Sick in part such a great watch. A blend of heart and humour and sadness and joy that isn’t carefully constructed.

“Emily has this superpower that unfortunately that is very rare in Hollywood: writing female characters who are real and interesting and complicated and funny,” said Nanjiani. “They should let more women write movies. It’s pretty great to be part of a movie where we can be proud of every character.”

“Women get to be funny or serious but not both” added Gordon. As it happens, Kazan has also written an acclaimed indie rom com, one where the female character, of course, wasn’t one dimensional.

“She is a great writer,” Nanjiani said of Kazan. “And she has a real fun and funny side, and she is a very serious person. That’s a quality she shares with Emily. She is funny but also very serious. She is not flippant. She has heft to her. We wanted all our characters to have that.”

“Certain scenes in the movie, we showed people, and they’re like, ‘we’ve never seen a movie like that.’ Yeah! Have a feminist perspective writing movies, have different perspectives writing and directing movies, and you’ll see new things.”

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Anthony is a lover of a good story in any form, on any subject. Tirelessly navigating filmdom, he is equal parts an unbridled idealist and stubborn curmudgeon, trying to strike a balance between head and heart when it comes to pop culture. He pens stories about television, music, the environment, lifestyles, and all things noteworthy and peculiar.