The Big Sick Writer Emily Gordon Is Breaking All the Rules of Filmmaking
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When Emily Gordon and her husband and writing partner Kumail Nanjiani first showed their Judd Apatow-produced indie film The Big Sick to audiences, the comment they heard over and over was “I’ve never seen a movie like that!”
“I feel like women either get to be funny or serious and they don’t get to be both,” says Gordon, who spoke to us about the filmmaking process ahead of the movie’s release on June 30.
Gordon wasn’t having that. The Big Sick is, after all, her story as much as it is Nanjiani’s. With actor Zoe Kazan standing in for Gordon, the film follows the trajectory of the couple’s real-life relationship from meet-cute to meet-the-parents (in a hospital waiting room while Emily, both the character and the actual woman, fights for her life after being diagnosed with an aggressive and potentially deadly lung infection). In case you can’t tell, it’s a comedy.
Getting it made, however, was no joke. Gordon and Nanjiani spent three years chipping away at a very personal story that touches on issues like ethnicity, religion, and spending close to two weeks in a coma (eat your heart out, Morrissey). The passage of years plus coma equals — when it comes time to write about it — two diverging perspectives on how the whole thing went down. But, says Gordon, the inclusion of different perspectives makes for a way better story. (Write it down, Hollywood studios. Here, you can even borrow a pen.)
“Every time in writing this that we found we’d have a disagreement about how we experienced something from our past,” she explains, “we’d try to fold both perspectives into the movie. Because I think so often women get sidelined in movies like this. Whoever is not the lead gets sidelined. They’re just supposed to fold into whatever the other person is feeling. We were very adamant that Emily is a full person and has different perspectives on things. So anytime we disagreed, we’d put that into the script.”
Wondering why we don’t see more mainstream movies that represent the range of voices and stories? You know, like the ones that actually exist in the real world? Nanjiani has an explanation for that: “Emily has this superpower that unfortunately is very rare in Hollywood, which is writing female characters who are real and interesting and complicated and funny. I was like, ‘They should let more women write and direct movies!’ he jokes. “It’s like, yeah, have like a feminist perspective when you’re writing the movie or have different types of people writing and directing movies, and you’ll see new, interesting things! I went on a tirade…. (but) It’s pretty great to be part of a movie where we can be proud of every character.”
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(Photos via Getty/Lionsgate)