For Marjoun (Nina Dandachli), an Arab-American teenager on the verge of sexuality, “Arab” and “American” are constantly clashing battles. Her mother (Katherine Esquivel) and father (Hugo Perez) are from a solid authoritative mold, her mother hoping that she sticks to some of the Arabian traditions, and doesn’t chuck it away for American whims. But with a country that affords many freedoms, that shows you can worship any way you want, live according to your desires, and be a person of your own accord, it’s plenty confusing for Marjoun, especially at the moment where she feels something different inside her, far different than anything else in her life. She stares at the boy (Houston Hill) sitting in front of her in class, almost to where a sight gag involving drooling would be appropriate. She stares up at the clouds, spotting a fish, and stands there until her father, sitting in the car, nearly leans on the horn.
Writer/director Susan Youssef intricately understands the everlasting conflict, even if it is a little too obvious in a moment where the mother implores Marjoun to take off her headscarf when she’s in the house, stating, “There’s no one here to look at you.” It’s the same for the attraction between her and the boy, when she drops a pencil, he picks it up, and she gradually takes it, in a too-long shot. But even with those moments, I can’t resist yet another enlightening ending, even with obvious symbolism. It feels so right, for her and us.