There are a couple of things of which we Americans really don’t ever need to be reminded — and especially not now. One, of course, is our head-scratching infatuation with disco. The other, much more somber sore point, is the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis. (For younger, historically deficient readers, that was when Iranian Muslim Fundamentalists — the Taliban of their day — under the infamous Ayatollah Khomeni stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took our folks hostage for well over a year. Lasting repercussions included Reagan’s defeat of Carter and the creation of ABC’s “Nightline with Ted Kopple.”) While director Babak Shokrina’s odd comedy “America So Beautiful,” which has both of those themes as its backdrop, would have faced an uphill battle for the hearts and minds of the viewing audience under any circumstances, it’s unfortunately an even harder sell nowadays.
No one would agree more than Houshang (Mansour), an opportunistic slacker — how’s that for an oxymoron? — who’s looking for a shortcut to the American Dream? The young Iranian-American believes he’s found one in Sahmi (Houshany Touzie), the smarmy hustler and owner of several Los Angeles discos circa 1979. Sahmi’s convinced Houshang that he can bring in a bucket of money just by investing in one of his clubs for one night. All he has to do is put up $1,500 — plus $500 for “insurance” — and he can reap enough profit to avoid getting a real job. Now all Houshang needs to do is raise the balance of the cash from his skeptical, far more practical friends. Despite his best efforts, Houshang can’t seem to convince his cab driving buddy Parviz (Fariborz David Diaan), his sometime shopkeeper boss Hamid (Alain DeSatti) or anyone else, for that matter, that the concept of timeshare disco ownership is a sound business principle. His last chance comes with a night on the town, courtesy of Sahmi; a chance to play bigshot in the hopes of luring his reluctant cohorts along for the ride.
“America So Beautiful” takes a while to get rolling, but builds fairly well once it finally does. Part of the problem, no doubt, is Shokrina’s decision to have the dialogue rapidly alternate between English and (presumably) Persian, with subtitles. This is a highly disorienting distraction, leading to confusion as to who’s who and their relationship to one another.
Another problem is the film’s disjointed narrative and a meandering subplot involving Lucy (Diane Gaidrid), a single mom and one of Houshang’s love interests. While Shokrina at least ties up this loose string at the last minute, it adds little to the story as a whole.
Through no fault or intention of its own, “America So Beautiful” is a particularly poignant film in these troubled times. While providing a fresh perspective on a different troubled time in our history, this challenging but flawed film nonetheless manages to be a much needed affirmation of the American Dream.