A charming film which, despite its apparent cynicism, has an inherent optimism easy to fall for.
Amira and Sam
Directed and written by Sean Mullin, his début feature Amira and Sam takes a wry look at post 9/11 America through the eyes of Sam (Martin Starr), an Iraq War veteran, whose life is transformed through a relationship with Amira (Dina Shihabi), the niece of his unit’s former Iraqi translator.
Amira and Sam initially meet when Sam pays a visit to his friend, Bassam (Laith Nakli), who worked as the Iraqi translator when he was in the war and to whom he visits to return a lost emblem. After a brutally awkward meal Sam believes it’s the last he will see of Amira. But when she is caught by the police, boot-legging pirated DVDs, Amira is sent into hiding. Desperate, Bassam asks Sam if he will look after her. After being fired from his job as a security guard, Sam finds work with his cousin Charlie (Paul Wesley) securing investments in hedge funds.
Amira and Sam excels in finding the humor in the tragic. Mullin exploits the comedic potential of Sam, in his under-appreciated job as a security guard, and the irony of Amira trying to sell pirated copies of Western romantic comedies on the side of the road while sporting her hijab. Fans of Freaks and Geeks and Silicon Valley will already be aware of Martin Starr’s talents as a comedic actor and here he is perfectly cast, wringing every last drop of humor from scenes which might have fallen flat in a lesser actor’s hands. Dina Shihabi is also excellent as Amira and has real chemistry with Starr, often acting as a charming foil to his acerbic wit throughout the film.
It seems obvious that Mullin has a political agenda with his film. This is most evidenced in a scene involving a dispute between Sam and his corrupt cousin Charlie who exploits Sam’s army experience to further his ethically dubious hedge funds, by targeting former war veterans. Mullin’s message regarding the ego-centrism and ignorance of those standing on top the pyramid will certainly resonate with many still suffering from the financial crisis. However, Mullin’s political commentary is thinly drawn and offers little insight beyond the now familiar narrative of the ‘1%’ and the rest of us. Mullin is more effective when focusing on the small details, whether they be Sam’s charming cultural clashes with Amira as they build a relationship together, or his quiet conversations with army veteran and potential hedge fund investor Jack (David Rasche) as they reflect on life after the army. Especially affecting is the casual racism shown by Charlie’s friends towards Amira when she arrives at his engagement party in her hijab with Sam. Amira’s bold and confident belief in her own cultural identity, despite their criticism, is refreshing.
Amira and Sam is a charming film which despite its apparent cynicism has an inherent optimism that’s hard not to fall for. Its political commentary can be occasionally simplistic, but also offers important messages around cultural tolerance, and the strong performances of the film’s leads paper over any cracks in the film, bringing Mullin’s gentle romantic comedy to life.