annette bening, Kumail Nanjiani, joseph gordon-levitt, 20th century women, the big sick, 50/50, autobiography, movie, film, true story,

The Big Sick and more true stories written by the subject for the big screen

Films based on a true story tend to hit a little harder.

Watching a story unfold and knowing that it's not a work of fiction, but the real life experience of an actual human being, makes everything that occurs that much more impactful. It's incredibly common for films to be based on true life for that reason; it is an instant emotional investment beyond what most fiction can provide. It doesn't happen incredibly often, but sometimes we get the treat of not just watching a work of art, but someone's personal life story being displayed in their own words.

This summer, we are seeing one of these instances with The Big Sick, a film co-written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the actual couple depicted in the movie. As Kumail is also an actor, he stars as a version of himself, and Zoe Kazan plays Emily. This story is about how their relationship was burdened by their cultural differences--though considering they're married in real life and wrote this film together, we have a pretty good feeling that it will result in a happy ending.

Here are 6 more examples of such personal films, where screenwriters (and sometimes directors) get to tell their own life story on the big screen.


Written by: Will Reiser

Writer Will Reiser wrote 50/50 based on his own experience battling cancer. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Adam, a radio writer who at age 27, develops a rare form of spinal cancer. The film is notoriously known as being a comedy about cancer, but because it's based on Will's life, the tone of the movie works as it's all rooted in his own experiences where he could find the humourous and both light and dark moments of battling this disease. It also happens that Seth Rogen is one of Reiser's real life best friends, and it was Seth who convinced Will to write the script. Many of the scenarios we see in the film are taken from Rogen and Reiser's friendship as Reiser battled cancer.


Written by: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud

One of the most acclaimed autobiographies and graphic novels ever written, Marjane Satrapi's coming-of-age story got a beautiful animated treatment with this film adaptation. Satrapi grew up in Iran in the midst of the Islamic Revolution, which made her childhood and teen years harsher than what most would experience, though she tells her story in a light-hearted way. The film was nominated for Best Animated Picture at the Oscars in 2008.


Written by: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

While not everything in Superbad is based in reality, the film is an adaptation of writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's adventures as teenagers, mainly their attempts to get with girls and buy alcohol. The characters are based on Rogen and Goldberg themselves (played by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera), and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is based on their friend with the same name as well. There's no doubting that this film was as successful as it was because it was a very accurate depiction of teenage boys, and well, those boys were the hilarious comedy writers Rogen and Goldberg (who apparently wrote the first draft of the script at age 13).

Beginners/20th Century Women

Written by: Mike Mills

Writer/Director Mike Mills has made two beautiful tributes to his parents with these two films, Beginners which tells the story of his father, and 20th Century Women, which tells the story of his mother. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for his performance as a version of Mills' own father, who at age 75 was both diagnosed with terminal cancer, and who also came out as a gay man. The film gives us insight into his relationship with his father at this point in both of their lives, as Oliver (Ewan McGregor as a version of Mills), deals with these revelations about his dad.

20th Century Women gives us a bit of the flip side, although here we see more of Mills' relationship with his mother as a teenager. The film shows her a single mom who enlists two younger women to help raise her son. While neither film is purely autobiographical, they're both inspired by his parents and the relationships he had with them, and make perfect companion pieces. 

Before Sunrise

Written by: Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan

The idea for Before Sunrise came from director Richard Linklater's similar experience of meeting a woman named Amy in Philadelphia who he spent a night walking around with. The film Before Sunrise depicts a man and woman who meet while on a train, and who make an impromptu decision to spend one night together in Vienna. While Linklater kept in touch with Amy, in Before Sunrise, Jesse and Celine decide to not exchange information but make a pact to meet again a year later. We find out through the films sequels Before Sunset and Before Midnight what happened to Jesse and Celine. Linklater's chance meeting sparked one of the most acclaimed film series ever made.

The Squid and the Whale

Written by: Noah Baumbach

Noah Baumbach often tells personal stories, but none quite as much as the story of his parents' divorce with The Squid and the Whale. The film follows two teenage boys, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) who cope with this change in different ways, each latching onto one parent. The family depicted in the film is highly dysfunctional, but Baumbach also highly fictionalized elements, which was a natural and therapeutic way for him to tell his story. Baumbach originally wanted Wes Anderson to direct the film, but Anderson insisted Baumbach should direct it himself. 

The Big Sick hits Cineplex theatres on July 14th.

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