Warning: The following article may — or may not — contain spoilers for “The Big Sick.” …It’s hard to say for sure.
Emily Gordon has a problem: She can’t stop spoiling her new movie. She gives away the ending literally every time she leaves her house. But that’s not all — she reveals crucial plot information with every interview, with every tweet, and with every Instagram post. She just can’t seem to help herself. It’s not that Gordon wants to make it harder for people to enjoy “The Big Sick,” it’s just that she’s written an autobiographical story that hinges on the question of whether she lives or dies, and so the mere fact of her continued existence kind of gives away the ending.
But if Emily Gordon has a problem, it’s a good problem to have. Her ongoing presence on this mortal coil only evolved from a mundane reality to a major spoiler because “The Big Sick” is really, really, really fucking great and — if there’s even the tiniest subatomic quark of justice left in this crazy world — everyone is going to want to go watch it in theaters when Amazon releases it this summer.
The funniest and most emotionally tender romantic-comedy that Judd Apatow never made (he merely produced it), the Sundance breakout dramatizes the wild series of events that happened after Gordon first met “Silicon Valley” star Kumail Nanjiani, who co-wrote the script and plays himself in the film. It all went down a few years ago, back when Nanjiani was still an up-and-coming standup in Chicago, and their courtship was pretty much the classic tale of boy meets girl (girl is played by Zoe Kazan), boy and girl have lots of sex and like each other, boy kinda neglects to tell girl that his lovingly strict Pakistani family would never allow him to marry someone white, girl finds out and breaks up with boy, girl falls into a sudden coma, and boy — with a little help from girl’s anxious parents, who look suspiciously like Ray Romano and Holly Hunter — is forced to figure out where his priorities lie. Today (spoiler alert?), girl is alive and boy is her husband.
Even better than you may have heard (and, thanks to the increasing inhumanity of our healthcare system, even more relevant than it may once have been), “The Big Sick” is the kind of movie that could propel its leading man towards stardom, galvanize a country that’s fractured by racism and xenophobia, and make a ton of money in the process. On top of that, the fact that the film is based on a true story provides its distributor, Lionsgate, with the rare kind of undeniable hook that marketing can’t buy and rave reviews can’t offer. When people tell their friends to go see it — and they will — every breathless recommendation will start with the the words “this actually happened.”
Of course, that isn’t much of a reveal in and of itself, it doesn’t explicitly tell you how the story ends (they make movies about dead people, too), but “The Big Sick” seems to suggest that merely knowing something is non-fiction tends to have a significant impact on a viewer’s expectations and / or experience. (To its credit, the trailer acknowledges that the movie’s based on a true story in its opening moments.) The exact nature of that impact is hard to parse, but it’s fascinating to watch how delicately the film and the studio try to thread the needle between entertainment and ordeal. Confronted by a strange dilemma that the people behind the likes of “Sully” and “The Social Network” never had to deal with, the storytellers and the studio alike have each found themselves faced with a bizarre question: Can you spoil a true story?
That’s a rhetorical question, but the answer is definitely “yes.” Even documentaries can be spoiled — how many reviews of “Tickled,” to pick just one example, were threaded with disclaimers about how the film’s wild twists were best experienced firsthand? That’s another rhetorical question, but the answer is “all of them.” What’s so interesting about a film like “The Big Sick,” however, is that by working from the assumption that you can spoil a true story, it ultimately opens the door to the far more interesting matter of whether or not you should.
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