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Film Review: Amira & Sam

I love romantic comedies. Like sitcoms, I believe the romcom has that special, low-budget power to stretch Hollywood’s narrow beliefs of who might be portrayed on screen.

Unlike sitcoms, however, romantic comedies usually do not.

Amira & Sam, directed by Sean Mullin, is a film in the tradition of the romantic comedy. As in any good romcom, the movie chronicles the intersection of the lives of two people in love:

Amira (Dina Shihabi) is an undocumented Iraqi immigrant who peddles bootleg copies of romantic comedy movies on the street corners of New York. Sam (Martin Starr) is a US Army veteran and aspiring standup comedian who, recently fired from his job as a nighttime security officer, has been offered a position at his cousin’s top Wall Street Hedge fund. When Amira is threatened with deportation back to Iraq, where her life is in jeopardy due to her family’s sympathy for the Americans, she and Sam face serious decisions.

This is not exactly the immigration scenario from The Proposal. In fact, much of Amira & Sam is nothing like anything you’ve ever seen before that dares call itself a romantic comedy.

While Amira’s one-liners and personality of contrasts certainly keeps the comedy on its toes, the undertones of the film are inherently darker. Amira, whose “otherness” in society is predicated on the hijab she wears, is categorized by the Wall Street bros as “Aladdin’s girlfriend” (apparently not having bothered to learn the name of the cartoon character they spent their boyhoods lusting after). Sam’s “otherness” stems from his status as a veteran, which society seems to simultaneously venerate and forget. In one scene, Sam and an older Vietnam veteran swap war stories and thank one another for their service. Sam’s cousin awkwardly interrupts the heartfelt exchange with his own belated thanks to the both of them. While the social divisions here are not immediately obvious (all three individuals are white males), there is the same condescending sense of “mansplaining” in the civilian’s interjection (civilian-splaining?), who later also seeks to capitalize on his friend’s status as a veteran.

However, even the serious subject matter is employed for some traditional romcom oops-sorry-I-was-obligated-by-the-scenario-to-touch-you-there moments, such as when a cop walks by the couple seated on a park bench and Sam is forced to hide Amira’s face.

Amira & Sam is the story of two people, forgotten, abused, and otherwise marginalized by society, who meet, fall in love, and must decide how to keep one another.

While parts of the story may stretch credulity, the most believable aspect of the story is, fortunately, the chemistry between Starr and Shihabi. Add to that chemistry some astonishingly beautiful cinematography and a particularly moving love scene in which Amira and Sam remove from one another the articles of clothing that serve so often as the vessels of their stigmatization, and you have that rarest of films: a romantic comedy with the power to affect how you see the world.

Amira & Sam is playing in theaters showing independent films and is available streaming.

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