Marketed as a twist on the romantic comedy, Amira & Sam is anything but. It’s actually a retread of the criticisms that industry films have been making for some time – capitalism is bad, illegal immigrants shouldn’t be deported, old white people are racist – except on a much smaller budget. In the middle of the movie there also happens to be an unlikely romance. This formula for a film isn’t necessarily bad, but audiences should know what they’re getting into, especially those who are part of military families. On its own merits, Amira & Sam is not unwatchable – it manages to be cute and entertaining in parts – but given its obvious political bent, there are no surprises here.
Sam (Martin Starr) is a soldier returning to New York after a lengthy deployment and multiple tours in Afghanistan. His cousin, Charlie (Paul Wesley) is a high-powered hedge fund manager who hooks Sam up with a job as a guard at Charlie’s firm. Seeing an opportunity to lure wealthy veterans into investing with his company, Charlie begins leveraging Sam’s military experience by having him cozy up to potential clients, military man to military man. Unfortunately, Sam quickly learns that Charlie’s practices aren’t completely above board. To complicate matters, Sam’s Iraqi army buddy needs him to watch over his strong-willed Muslim niece, Amira (Dina Shihabi), who is living in New York illegally and is now wanted by police.
The particular views of the film are definitely going to alienate specific audiences. Instead of a rival suitor or over-protective parents, the antagonist of this romantic comedy is America as represented by the character Charlie, who, in the film, plays a corrupt businessman. When Sam self-evidently exclaims, “You’re rigging the system,” Charlie helpfully explains how corruption is the ingredient that makes the system work, making sure to refer to “the one percent” in case audiences weren’t sure who the corrupt people were. It’s also at one of Charlie’s social functions where Amira is subjected to stares and comments from white people as Amira looks out of place wearing her hijab. When Sam’s uncle asks if Amira is in the country legally, Sam dryly replies, “This is America; we’re all here illegally.” The message is clear: White people are xenophobic, rich people are crooks and since the United States stole the land from the natives, no one should be deported.
Writer and director Sean Mullin is an officer in the New York Army National Guard, so the film spares the military the worst of its slings and arrows, but Mullin does get at least one jab in. When Sam visits his local Veterans Affairs office, his advocate can’t understand why he won’t apply for disability even though he doesn’t need it, since presumably other soldiers claim disability regardless of their condition. Clearly, even America’s finest are not above corruption in Mullin’s eyes.
To reiterate, there is nothing inherently wrong with a film being political. It’s only a problem here because Mullin has too much to say and not enough runtime to say it. Obviously, there is a lot of Mullin in the film, right down to Sam’s dream of being a stand-up comic, which Mullin also pursued. He wants to share his voice, his opinions and his life with audiences via this film, but doesn’t focus it enough to be compelling. Mullin would have been better served if his film were about a war-weary soldier returning home and trying stand-up comedy, bombing, struggling, but ultimately succeeding once he learned to incorporate his military experiences into his act, finding humor in a subject that most Americans find humorless. A romcom plot could easily have been crafted within that context. Unfortunately, Mullin had a few too many bones to pick and Amira & Sam ended up feeling a little meatless for it.
Finally, the timing of the film is unfortunate. With another film about an American soldier that is decidedly pro-America currently dominating the box offices, it seems that the mood of the nation is changing. America wants to like itself again, and it will be hard to convince people to watch a movie about why the country sucks.