Written by Tristan Lueck
Photos by Katherine Rountree
Every once in a while a movie comes along that touches on not only important social issues, but also viewers’ hearts. “Amira and Sam,” from director and writer Sean Mullin, does just that. The movie highlights the issue of race in post 9/11 New York City, as well as the growing epidemic of unemployed and disabled veterans in the United States. He sneaks these issues in under the charming and quirky love story of a couple that the audience spends the entire film rooting for.
The movie follows recent Army veteran Sam, played by Martin Starr of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Superbad,” as he assimilates back into society after an almost 10-year hiatus. Shortly after his return he goes on to fulfill a promise he made to the Arabic translator that was with him in Afghanistan. This is where he meets Amira, played by newcomer Dina Shihabi.
Amira almost immediately dislikes Sam, saying that he “smells like a cop,” to which Sam replies by holding up the bag of donuts he’s carrying. This set the way for perhaps the best thing about the movie: the cleverness of the script. Mullin’s seamless one-liners coupled with a perfect mixture of dry humor and heart-warming dialogue gives Starr and Shihabi plenty to work with. Starr acts out each scene to perfection, his movements only emphasizing the comedic moments in the film. Starr also delivers each line with a dryness that just makes everything seem more natural. His character is completely developed and every scene of his is 100 percent believable.
The two leads play off each other so well that the audience leaves the theater truly believing Amira and Sam are in love with each other. However, the relationship does have a slight Romeo and Juliet feel. The couple basically falls in love over a long weekend and it isn’t long until fate attempts to drive them apart. This is a problem that plagues many romantic comedies and while “Amira and Sam” plays it off better than most, it still doesn’t seem quite right.
While this movie is more on the romantic comedy side of the movie spectrum, it still showcases issues that Americans are actively dealing with today. The movie begins with Sam working a menial late night security job that he got from a recommendation by his cousin. Shortly after the start of the film he is fired and on the hunt for another job. He heads to Veteran’s Affairs where the case worker finds it hard to believe that Sam does not want to declare himself disabled and collect benefits from the government. This plays on the view that some people have that perfectly healthy soldiers are just trying to receive a hand out, when in fact the ones that don’t need it might not want it. It also shows how difficult it is for someone who has spent the majority of their life serving their country to come back and find a job that pays enough for them to live on.
The movie also shows the prejudice many Americans still hold for citizens of Middle Eastern descent. Amira is treated mostly with wary respect and gentle civility through out the movie. However, there are some scenes that show how she is viewed by others. In one scene a woman asks her if “they make her wear that.,” meaning an Iraqi hijab. To which Amira replies that she does what she wants. In another scene a man asks Sam “Haven’t you done enough for those people?” He then proceeds to rant about how he was at the fall of the Twin Towers and how towels are not hats. This view, while unfortunate, is held by some people still and is indicative of the way Americans viewed Japanese citizens after the events of Pearl Harbor.
The film is a refreshing way to look at certain issues in the United States, while still telling a beautiful love story. “Amira and Sam” is a wonderful approach to modern romances. It holds hints of those epic stories of the past while slipping in flicks of restorative humor and charmingly endearing moments. Starr and Shihabi interact with each other perfectly and the backdrop of Mullin’s script makes the movie a breathe of fresh air in a world full of movies that take a much more heavy handed approach.