It is pretty early in the year, but there is already a movie that has a lot of folks talking and could be an early awards season favorite. The Big Sick made a big splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and wound up being one of the biggest sales at the event. Amazon Studios stepped in to purchase the buzzy, real-life romantic comedy for a whopping $12 million. They apparently have a lot of faith that this movie is going to be a big deal. As they probably should.
Following the debut at Sundance, The Big Sick recently screened for some lucky crowds at both SXSW and CinemaCon, and those who saw it seemed to be praising it just as highly as those who had viewed it at Sundance. The movie currently holds a very impressive 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with only a single negative review thus far. That will probably change as more people see the movie and the July release date approaches, but it is clear this movie is really resonating with critics and audiences. Here is the official synopsis for The Big Sick.
“Based on the real-life courtship between Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, “The Big Sick” tells the story of Pakistan-born aspiring comedian Kumail, who connects with grad student Emily after one of his standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents.”
This movie tells a deeply personal story about comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon. The pair wrote the movie themselves, with Nanjiani taking on the added responsibility of playing himself in the movie as well. Anyone who has seen him in Silicon Valley or really anything he has done, knows that was probably for the best. The movie also had a very perfect and capable director with Michael Showalter, along with a stacked cast full of funny and talented people. Couple that with a heartwarming and genuinely funny story and you have the makings of something truly special.
I had the chance to sit down with Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon the day after the first screening of The Big Sick at SXSW. We talked about what it was like putting this personal story out in the world, how crazy it was that the movie wound up selling for so much money and how the issue of diversity was handled in the movie. With all of that said, here is my conversation with the husband and wife writing duo who are responsible for one of 2017’s most buzzed about movies.
I know this is something that is really personal for you guys, so how are you kind of feeling about everything right now? Because it all seems to be going very well. Which is probably awesome, I would imagine.
Kumail Nanjiani: It’s interesting because all of the fun work of making the movie and writing the movie and being in the movie and working on the movie is done and now it’s sort of the job of convincing people to go see the movie. That’s just getting started. So it’s been great to show the movie to crowds and watch it with a crowd. Yesterday was really fun and Sundance was really fun. But what’s coming up now is convincing people to see the movie and I’m curious to see how successful we can be because I do think it’s a movie that a lot of different people will like. Different age groups, I just think it’s like a family movie in a lot of ways but also a movie, I don’t know. I hope people watch it.
Emily V. Gordon: I’m feeling good. I like when people like the movie. I’m excited that people seem to be liking the movie and having a good response and it’s inspiring to tell us stuff that maybe they wouldn’t tell strangers normally, which is always cool.
I was listening to an old episode of the Nerdist Podcast, as I’m known to do, and you (Kumail) were talking probably about a year and a half ago about having this movie that you were about to do. I’m assuming it must have been this. So how does it feel now that it’s a real thing? It’s out in the world. It’s done. The work is done. How does that feel? Is it weird? Is it awesome? I can’t even imagine how that must feel.
Kumail Nanjiani: I feel very proud of the movie. I think we all do. We’re very excited. I think the weird part is that the movie is done but very few people have seen it. I just want it to be out so people can see it and then we can sort of, at that point, move onto the next phase of lives, you know?
Emily V. Gordon: Whatever that is.
Kumail Nanjiani: Whatever that is! Whatever that is, but right now we’re still sort of in the middle of this movie. I love that people seem to like it and I love watching it with people. Emily?
Emily V. Gordon: Yeah. I mean, it does feel a little weird to have stuff that was, prior to this, quite private be kind of quite public. I don’t talk about being sick ever really to any friends. It doesn’t really come up. Like, ‘Oh! You were sleeping? I was in a coma once.’ It just doesn’t come up.
Kumail Nanjiani: Speaking of power naps.
Emily Gordon: So powerful. Many of my friends were like, ‘I didn’t know any of this stuff.’ Because there’s just no appropriate time to kind of bring that up. So that’s a fun thing that I suddenly feel like people know about me that they didn’t know before, so I’m kind of adjusting to that but it’s going well so far.
Kind of springboarding off of that. Kumail, you’re playing yourself and this is a deeply, deeply personal thing. Was it kind of strange? Because you’re playing you but in the Emily is obviously not (playing herself). So how was that for you? Because you’re doing this deeply personal thing.
Emily V. Gordon: With a stranger!
With a stranger. I suppose that’s probably the best way to put it.
Kumail Nanjiani: Well I think that the artificiality of it being someone else actually helped me relive some of it because it makes it feel a little bit safer in a strange way. Where it makes it feel a little more like, ‘Oh I’m making something! I’m not just reliving this. I have this safety net of, you know, I’m creating a piece of work with another person who is also working.’ But I think that safety actually allowed me to revisit some of that stuff in a way that I hadn’t been able to just sort of sitting around or thinking about it. And her (Zoe Kazan) being such a phenomenal actress really, really, really was helpful in getting me through some of those scenes.
She was outstanding.
Emily V. Gordon: She was great.
Emily, did you have anything on the flipside of that? Because you weren’t in it, yet Kumail was.
Emily V. Gordon: No. I’m not an actress so I never was like, ‘I’ve gotta get in there and do this!’ Because for me, having gone through it did not mean that I would be the best person. To me that is an alien concept that you would be the best person to then act it out. So I was really happy with Zoe, who was someone I trusted and someone who I knew would do a really good job at kind of making her a full person and not just trying to do some weird impression of me, which really would have weirded me out. But rather, had fully kind of thought things through and brought her own stuff to it. So it could have been weird, but it wasn’t.
This was one of the big sales out of Sundance. You guys make a personal movie and then somebody goes, ‘Your idea is worth X amount of a lot of dollars!’ Was that kind of nuts?
Emily V. Gordon: That was nuts because I do feel like, well, now we’ve gotta live up to that! That is terrifying. It’s really lovely to have people kind of believe in you.
Kumail Nanjiani: And the movie.
Emily V. Gordon: And the movie, but I think would have, obviously we would have settled for a lot less. Just the idea that someone kind of wanted to put this out there. All we wanted was for it to be in theaters. We wanted people to see it and then we wanted it to be in theaters. So I think whatever the amount was, it was more important to us that the people that bought it also thought it important to put it in theaters.
Kumail Nanjiani: For us, the amount was never something we were thinking about before but it’s weird because it does become such a big part of the story, how much it sold for. And we didn’t anticipate that being a big part of the story. To us, we were just excited that people would have a shot at seeing it in theaters. That’s what I was most excited about. The number becoming such a big part of the story is interesting and it is a lot of strange pressure, but I just want people to watch it and like it.
It probably won’t hurt anything
Kumail Nanjiani: Totally.
I’m sure you’re probably going to get tired of hearing this, but there’s talk of diversity and this movie deals a ton with your Pakistani heritage, but it’s not heavy-handed. It just fits right into the movie and it’s just part of the narrative and I think that’s part of what makes it work so well. So was that an important thing from the very beginning moving into this? That you kind of wanted to be like, ‘Hey, here’s a meaty role for somebody who is Pakistani but it isn’t a 7-Eleven clerk.’
Kumail Nanjiani: Well the good thing was that we wanted to tell our story but we knew that this was going to be part of it. We thought of it as like, ‘This will be a big advance on the attack to get everything to be more diverse!’ We just knew that we wanted to tell this story and that part of this story, a big part of this story, was going to be that cultural stuff. The experience of someone coming from a different culture coming here and then, what are you when you’re here? Are you American? Are you Pakistani? Are you Muslim? How do you negotiate and navigate that stuff? We knew that was going to be one facet of the story. We didn’t want it to be like, ‘This is what it’s about!’ But if we could treat it in a real and relatable way, then it’ll just add to another point of view that we don’t get to see in mainstream, American pop culture too much.
Emily V. Gordon: I just didn’t want a scene where like a white woman and a Pakistani guy are dating and she like, tries some Pakistani food and is like, ‘Oh! It’s so spicy!’ I just didn’t want that. That was very important to me.
The Big Sick stars Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler and David Alan Grier. The movie was directed by Michael Showalter with a script from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. The Big Sick is set for release on July 14, 2017.