Friday, January 30, 2015

AMIRA & SAM Review- Jonesy's Take

Director: Sean Mullin
Writer: Sean Mullin
Cast: Martin Starr, Dina Shihabi, Paul Wesley, and Laith Nikli.
Synopsis: A war veteran and an Iraqi immigrant fall in love under unlikely circumstances.

This review originally ran on

An army veteran trying to acclimate himself back into society again falls in love with an Iraqi immigrant who is on the cusp of potentially being deported. Sounds like the making of a tragic love story that ends in tears and heartbreak.

But that's not the case with AMIRA & SAM.

Instead, director Sean Mullin, in his first full-length feature, creates a sweet, smart, and rather funny romantic comedy that doesn't feel like a cliche story we've seen a hundred times.

Sam (Martin Starr) is having trouble fitting back into society after being on a lengthy tour. He doesn't have PTSD or on disability, but he's been gone for so long, it's a bit of a culture shock for him. He eventually reconnects with one of his old war buddies, Bassam. Bassam is caring for his niece, Amira (Dina Shihabi), who makes her living selling bootleg copies of DVD's from the early 2000's on the streets of New York. Initially, Amira despises Sam because she doesn't trust soldiers. But as fate would have it, their paths cross when she runs into trouble with the law, and Sam gives her a place where she can lie low for a while.

The film works because of the two title characters. Starr brings a fun dryness to Sam. He is quick with witty comments and has a quiet confidence about himself. Shihabi is absolutely stellar. She's tough, smart, and fiercely independent. And she can match Sam's dryness and sarcasm. Their back and forth are the best parts of the film. It takes a third of the movie before they begin to develop a relationship, and their bond never feels forced.

With the deportation issue floating above their heads, it would have been easy for the story to become heavy handed with politics. Instead, Mullin makes the decision to focus on Sam and Amira's relationship, and their feelings for each other. No overly dramatic scenes or diatribes, which is quite refreshing when you're dealing with the theme of immigration.

If anything, the film could have been a bit longer to really delve into their relationship even more. However, the writing is so strong that it lets the audience put together the characters' past lives. There are a couple of lines where Amira's past is hinted at, but it's never fully explained.  However, it leaves the character as somewhat of a mystery, and we're free to piece together her past to better understand her motivations. Their relationship does develop rather quickly, which could put some people off. However, they feel like that couple that just seems to click which is evident through their chemistry, so it doesn't hinder the movie much by the end.

AMIRA & SAM actually accomplished creating a fresh take on the romantic comedy genre. With its solid characters, dry humor, but realistic situations, it's a strong first feature for Mullin.

A must see for anyone who enjoys a romantic story without saccharine dialogue or cliched characters.

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