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The Big Sick

A brilliant, if not slightly long, exploration of what happens when one bases their life on the reactions of others.

Structure: 4/5 | Entertainment: 4/5

Executive Producer Judd Apatow continues his love affair of comedians with The Big Sick, a likable if methodical, story of one Pakistanis’ coming to America. Upholding the cultural trend of modern films like Get Out, Wonder Woman, and Dunkirk, The Big Sick explores the problematic immediacy of what we want to do, who we want to be, and who we can marry.

The Big Sick is about comedians, and if there’s one thing that drives comics more than anything else, it’s the reaction of the crowd. This element of Reaction, defined by the Dramatica theory of story as actions made in response, motivates both the Main Character and Overall Story Throughlines.

One of the purposes of narrative is to grant us an understanding of the problems we face in our own lives. By juxtapositioning questionable actions made in response both from a first-person subjective point-of-view and a third-person objective point-of-view, a film like The Big Sick clues us in on the most appropriate method for resolving these issues.

The Main Character Throughline provides the first-person subjective point-of-view. Kumail Nanjiani (Kumail Nanjiani) bases everything he does on how his mother and father would react. This Main Character Problem motivates his Throughline and causes him to see his parent’s approval as the real problem and a refusal to adapt to their way of thinking the answer (Main Character Symptom of Acceptance and Main Character Response of Non-Acceptance). This problematic motivation drives him to act out by changing things externally before trying to adapt himself internally (Main Character Approach of Do-er), e.g. going downstairs during a family dinner to play video games instead of praying.

The Overall Story Throughline provides the third-person objective point-of-view. Kumail and his comedian friends, Mary (Aidy Bryant), Chris (Kurt Braunohler), and CJ (Bo Burnham) base their entire existence on the crowd’s response to their jokes. Their constant need of approval drives them to deduce whether or not their jokes land and infer whether or not a talent scout will give them their big break (Overall Story Issue of Need, Overall Story Symptom of Deduction and Overall Story Response of Induction).

Throw in Emily’s actual problem with her body reacting inconceivably to an infection and one can see that Reaction drives conflict in The Big Sick.

The only way to resolve problems of Reaction is with Proaction, or taking initiative action to achieve one’s goals. CJ and Mary’s decision to move from Chicago to New York City is just the kind of thing to resolve their issues within the Overall Story Throughline (Story Driver of Decision, Overall Story Solution of Proaction).

Kumail initiates the same deciding force in his Throughline when he arrives at family dinner, uninvited and unwanted, and tells each one of them that he is going to be a part of his family (Main Character Solution of Proaction). This paradigm shift resolves his issues and brings peace to the 1400 yr. weight he feels as a Pakistani man in modern day America (Main Character Resolve of Changed, Main Character Throughline of Situation).

Change of this significance does not happen in a vacuum.

Challenging Kumail to change his way and adopt a new perspective is heckler and future girlfriend, Emily (Zoe Kazan). As Influence Character, Emily provides that first-person objective viewpoint found within the context of You.

Handing off her impactful point-of-view to her mom and dad when she goes under, Emily and her parents influence Kumail with their refusal to back down when the going gets tough:

  • Emily’s refusal to enter into a relationship with Kumail
  • Emily’s refusal to seek medical treatment when her ankle gives out
  • Her father’s refusal to leave her mother regardless of how much she may hate him
  • Her mother’s refusal to put up with shoddy hospital practices

All of these contribute towards Kumail’s growth of character (Influence Character Problem of Non-Acceptance and Influence Character Resolve of Steadfast). That unwillingness to compromise drives Emily’s parents to figure out what is going on with their daughter and what treatment she needs, and gives them cause to infer that the 17th best hospital in Chicago might not be the best hospital for her (Influence Character Symptom of Deduction and Influence Character Response of Induction).

The Relationship Story Throughlinethe heart of every complete story–centers around the romantic relationship between Kumail and Emily. The film starts and ends with the two of them making a big show of their love in front of everyone (Relationship Story Problem of Production), while their tender romance teaches them both how important they are for one another (Relationship Story Problem of Production, Relationship Story Concern of Learning). Calling Emily out for heckling and figuring out that Kumail may have a pattern of using favorite pickup lines and old B-Horror movies to lure women into bed challenges both to step up to the plate and grow together (Relationship Story Symptom of Deduction and Relationship Story Issue of Strategy). Their mutual callback to the night they first met resolves their love with the idea that in all likelihood, Emily is there not to heckle, but to support (Relationship Story Solution of Reduction).

The only drawback to the film–and it’s a minor one–is the lack of an apparent Story Limit. A set number of options or a set deadline frames a narrative in such a way that an Audience understands and appreciates the scope of the story. Leaving this story point deficient and ill-defined leaves many to wonder when will it all end?

The Big Sick is a lovely film, warmly acted, and tenderly told. With all Four Throughlines accounted for, this story relates a convincing argument for taking the initiative in matters of the heart.

Final Storyform Settings

Story Engine Settings for The Big Sick:

The image above is taken from the Story Engine window of Dramatica Story Expert. Story points in BLUE represent choices made by the user. Story points in RED reflect implied story elements provided by Dramatica.

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