amira_and_sam_3Year: 2015
Director: Sean Mullin
Writer(s): Sean Mullin
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: An army veteran’s unlikely romance with an Iraqi immigrant is put to the test when she is faced with the prospect of deportation. (Source)

Cynicism is such an integral of our lives now that it’s normal. What sets Amira and Sam head and shoulders above everything else is that it’s the most genuine, unabashedly warm-hearted film to come out in some time – and it earns such a feat without shying away from the heavier, darker issues that weave it’s story together! What director Sean Mullin has accomplished needs to be seen, and I can guarantee that it won’t be like anything you’ve seen in a while. This isn’t some crazy film with mind-bending plot mechanics or flashy visuals, but a transparent, honest one that resonates with universal themes and a clear message of tolerance and unlikely romance. Ultimately, Amira and Sam proves that all you need for a good movie is strong characters and plenty of heart.

After returning from nearly a decade of service, former Green Beret Sam returns home to New York. He attempts to make ends meet as a security guard while taking an unsuccessful stab at stand-up comedy. Not interested in a hand-out, he fends for himself, displaced in an unforgiving world that could care less about him. While keeping a promise to one of his former military interpreters named Bassam, now an Iraqi immigrant, he meets his niece, Amira. Bitter about the death of her brother at the hands of U.S. soldiers, she doesn’t want anything to do with Sam, and makes that unapologetically clear. Unbeknownst to him, she’s an illegal immigrant, and after getting caught selling pirated DVD’s with a fake I.D. finds herself on the run. With no where to go, Sam offers to take her in as as the police try to track her down. Forced to be together for a few days, the pair find that they share a common bond as outsiders, and an unlikely relationship forms.

Unlike most of the violent, patriotic propaganda centered around convenient heroics or the twisted thrillers built around PTSD, Mullin takes a refreshing route, focusing on endearing characters and their struggle to maintain who they are in a modern society that’s lost its mind. Mullin (himself a vet), has invested a very personal approach to the film, and you can see that in how grounded and relatable it is. As it turns out, there’s a war being fought right here at home, one in which ignorance, xenophobia and marginalization threatens to destroy everything that our vets fight for, and Mullin takes aim at it with clarity and precision. Yet despite the clear message about our relationship with veterans, his film is funny, charming and light on it’s feet, never succumbing to something preachy or pretentious. And yes, there is romance in the film (and even a few clever call outs to classic rom-coms), but it’s truly earned through genuine human connection, rather than empty tropes or surface humor. Through this, the story gives us a perspective of post-deployment life rarely seen in film, and it’s one that cuts deep with urgency.

amira_and_sam_newAt the heart of the story are two performances from Sam’s Martin Starr and Amira’s Dina Shihabi. Starr no doubt has a cult following from his Freaks and Geeks days and he finally gets his chance to hold a starring role – it’s also one of the best things he’s ever done. In some aspects cast against type, the actor gets to show a side of himself rarely seen before, one that’s naturally witty and with a pragmatic view of the world around him. As Amira, Shihabi makes an impression with an innocence that feels rare. Yes, her character is very guarded at first, but as she opens up, the actress is revealed as a true charmer with strength and vulnerability. Playing off the pair, Paul Wesley plays Charlie, a cousin of Sam who offers him a lucrative Wall Street gig that’s too good to be true. He’s a great contrast to Starr and Shihabi, unwittingly testing their relationship and acting as a pivot in many ways.

Honestly, if Amira and Sam doesn’t win you over, you may not have a heart. I personally don’t gravitate towards rom-coms, but even such a title is a loose fit at best. Mullin’s film calls attention to marginalized parts of society while being romantic and hopeful, but above all is about outsiders who find balance with each other. It’s as undjaded of a message as can be, and hopeful without being overly sappy or sloppily sentimental. This genuine view of the world is the kind of hopeful perspective on life that we need more of.

SG

Available on VOD and in theaters on January 30th.