Film Review: Amira & Sam

A potentially intriguing interracial love story between an ex-soldier and Middle Eastern lass feels much too forced and contrived.
Specialty Releases

The titular characters in Sean Mullin’s Amira & Sam make for one highly unlikely couple. Sam (Martin Starr) is a soldier recently returned to New York from Iraq and working as a security guard. He wants to make it on his own and loftily eschews any and all available veterans’ benefits. While visiting an old war buddy (Laith Nakli), he meets his niece, Amira (Dina Shihabi), an Iraqi refugee who sells pirated movie DVDs on the street. When immigration officials close in on her, Amira, who is initially distant to Sam, finds she must hide at his place to avoid being deported.

Meanwhile, Sam has connected with a cousin, Charlie (Paul Wesley), a hedge-fund honcho who wants him to be his liaison to attract well-heeled veterans as clients. Sam does well at first, his ingratiating personality and utter realness sitting well with his crusty, rich prospects. But as he and Amira begin to fall in love, the shadiness of Charlie's dealings rears its ugly head.

Amira & Sam begins well, with Sam's basically decent, unassuming and upright nature challenged when he confronts a gaggle of obnoxious, drunken yuppies and causes them to be stuck in an elevator after they torment him. His initial interaction with Amira and her uncle is an intriguing reveal of the tensions and challenges for Middle Eastern people dwelling in the city. But the film soon grows predictable and rather soft, with one too many tiresome, elegiac evocations of 9/11 and its devastating aftermath. The romance between the leads seems more of a contrivance than truly star-crossed, with the two often bonding as a confrontational united front against xenophobic Manhattanites, who often bizarrely behave here more like Bible Belt hicks than sophisticated cocktail party denizens. The couple's vehement, sometimes near-violent reactions seem a bit uncalled for, and it all has the self-congratulatory smugness of those scenes in Auntie Mame in which Mame too easily took down those bigoted, rich Upsons. Mullin isn't the most subtle of directors and certain shots, like one of Sam and Amira sitting on a bench, evokes Woody Allen's Manhattan too obviously, homage or not, making you yearn to see that more clever, incisive film about New York relationships instead. 

Starr has a shambling, low-key appeal, though he’s saddled with some lousy stand-up routines in his yawningly predictable aspiration to become a comedian. Shihabi is a bit too intense and overly glamorized, even when sporting the traditional veiled hijab, and her supposedly adorable mangling of English (“I'm just fucking with your asshole”) seems forced, to say the least.

Click here for cast and crew information.