If Sean Mullin’s premiere feature film, Amira & Sam, is any indicator of what’s to come, then I see many Oscars in Mullin’s future. Not surprisingly, Amira & Sam has already won six highly coveted festival awards, and will soon begin its theatrical tour.
Amira & Sam concerns two characters who meet and fall in love, but not in the sappy and embarrassing way you might expect from a movie. Sam is an army vet who’s just completed a long tour in the Middle East. Amira is a pretty Iraqi immigrant who lives with her over-protective uncle Bassam, in his small apartment in the city. The chance meeting between Amira and Sam occurs when Sam pays an unannounced visit to Bassam, Sam’s former army interpreter, and brings Bassam an ambiguous gift that’s only meaningful to the two men. Amira sees Sam outside, before Sam calls upon Bassam, and is rude to him. Her reaction to Sam doesn’t improve when she learns that Sam and her uncle are old army buddies, and if anything becomes even more obnoxious and vindictive, when Bassam insists that Sam stay for dinner. So how do the two characters fall in love after such brutal beginnings? Much of it’s because Amira and Sam are a lot alike, even though neither of them see that—nor do we—until we’ve had a chance to think about things after the film ends.
What’s special about Amira & Sam, aside from the fact that 90-minutes of film-time (complete with an incredible amount of action, both pleasant and unpleasant) flies by in a flash— is that the story, and its characters, never feel contrived. At the same time, “reality” is never overblown, as it surely could be, considering the time we live in, the story’s back tale, and all that’s happening in the world.
Every actor in Amira & Sam plays their roles authentically, so that subtle nuances are noticed and appreciated. Martin Starr really is Sam, a man who’s seen death and destruction and returns home changed. Through it all, Sam is still idealistic and funny, and doesn’t allow himself to be detached from life.
Dina Shihabi makes a thoroughly believable Amira, a firecracker-thrill seeker, who hates and loves in the same breath, and really appreciates a great romantic-comedy DVD (preferably pirated). Paul Wesley plays Sam’s cousin Charlie, a slimy financier who takes Ponzi-scheming to historic new lows, and never shows a touch of remorse for his actions. Still we never hate Charlie, even though he’s completely transparent to all of his clients, and to us. Wesley is an artist at becoming his characters so well that it’s actually difficult to separate the actor from his work. This is both admirable and chilling—and fodder for another time…
What’s wonderful to see in Amira & Sam is that all of the actors are truly collaborative, never attempt to upstage each other—and allow each character, equal importance in the movie. Also of note are the brilliant comic moments, which add to the charm of this must-see-gem of a film.