Movie Review - Amira & Sam

Martin Starr (left) and Dina Shihabi in 'Amira & Sam'
Writer-director Sean Mullin was a stand-up comic who played comedy clubs in New York. His film here is about a guy who aspires to be a stand-up comic, but there's no indication if any other autobiographical elements are present in this movie. It's set in the summer of 2008 in the wake of the War in Iraq and right before the 2008 financial crisis that hit in the transition of the Bush presidency to the Obama presidency, and Mullin brilliantly and simply comments on both things. At the same time, Mullin tells a very touching romance.

Martin Starr (Silicon Valley and Party Down) plays Sam, an Iraq war veteran who currently works as a doorman in the lobby of a New York apartment building. He doesn't seem too happy with his job. He goes to comedy clubs to try out his act but he's really rough and not very good.

Dina Shihabi plays Amira, an Iraqi immigrant who comes to visit her uncle Bassam who lives in Staten Island. She's haunted by the death of her brother. Probably because of all the instability there now, she doesn't want to return to her home country. She wants to try to make a life in the U.S. She gets into trouble with the law, however, when she's caught selling bootleg DVDs for extra cash.

Sam needs to make extra cash too. He luckily has a cousin named Charlie, played by Paul Wesley (The Vampire Diaries and Everwood) who is a stock broker or a financial manager. Charlie has a potential client who is a Vietnam War veteran with a lot of money. Charlie decides to use Sam as a way of landing this client named Jack, played by David Rasche. Charlie knows the veteran connection helps, so he hires Sam to close the deal of getting Jack to invest in Charlie's firm, the commission for which would be huge.

Amira discovers that Sam also has a connection with her uncle Bassam, played by Laith Nakli, a connection she doesn't like. Once she gets into trouble though, Sam steps up to help her. This gets the ball rolling for their romance. There are of course complications along the way, and initially it doesn't seem very likely for the two. However, Starr and Shihabi have great chemistry, which is proven in a long, one-take shot that's just the two of them in frame together for an extended period with no edits or tricks from Mullin.

It exemplifies the feeling of this whole movie. It feels natural, not contrived or forced. At the same time, Mullin really underlines this metaphor of "penguins in the desert." Both Sam and Amira are two creatures of a type that don't belong. Amira's displacement is a bit more obvious, although it's less of her being able to fit in and more of certain people not accepting her. For Sam, his situation might best be summed in a conversation he has with Jack.

Being in the military, one is shaped to have a certain level of idealism, as well as trained to always think and act to fit that idealism. Having experienced it for himself, Jack tells Sam that idealism no longer works in America. If one tries to make it work, it will get them nowhere. It will get nothing done and it will leave them lonely.

This might sound bleak, but this movie is a little bit of a push back against this assessment. There haven't been that many, but this is by far one of the best romantic comedies of the year. It's one of the best romantic films of year, period.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.


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