First-time writer-director Serry shows a remarkable gift for storytelling with this moving, effective little film about life in the USA for Iranians during the hostage crisis in 1979. The story centres on a New Jersey high school student named Maryam (Parris), who moved to the States with her parents (Toub and Aghdashloo) as a small girl and insists her friends just call her Mary. When her cousin Ali (Ackert) arrives from the homeland to study at university, a multi-layered clash begins, which highlights differences in culture, religion, sex and generations. But things don’t really get difficult until the American hostages are taken in Teheran, and sentiment on the streets turns against the Iranian students and immigrants, many of whom have lived in America all their lives.
Serry uses actual news footage to punctuate the story perfectly, keeping the issues in the service of the personal drama, which is beautifully told with an eye for natural dialog and characters. The story is funny, tense and deeply moving as we follow Mary through a minefield of family secrets, political skirmishes and personal challenges that highlight the sheer brainlessness of other high school movies. The period is recreated very nicely indeed, with an eye for subtle detail. And the serious, contentious themes are addressed clearly and fairly … taking us back to a point in time and letting us see it through other people’s eyes. The complex plot works so well on so many layers that minor problems in the story/characterizations (most notably a thriller subplot that thankfully never tries to overtake the central story) are irrelevant. This is an important film that deserves to be seen by far more than just festival audiences.