Do a Shot: for each bootleg film shown by Amira.
Take a Drink: during each heartwarming moment.
Take a Drink: for each racial comment.
Take a Drink: for each cool vehicle.
Do a Shot: during each awkward moment.
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
Despite the genre’s promise, there really have not been a lot of very good romantic films these days. A major reason why is that the genre itself is one that audiences are less-than-interested in nowadays, in what seems to be a product of both over-exposure and poorly made romantic films. While this is certainly the case with mainstream romance and romantic comedies, the genre has had a revival in the independent circuit.
Many are aware of some of the more obvious examples, such as the incredibly charming (500) Days of Summer and emotional epic Blue is the Warmest Color, but there are quite a few indies that have gone under the radar; last year alone indies like The Comet, Beyond the Lights, and The Pretty One were enjoyable romantic films that gave their own interesting spin on this tired genre. Well, it looks as if that could continue this year, with the latest romantic film Amira and Sam being one of the best in recent memory.
Amira and Sam follows an army veteran named Sam, who has yet to fully adjust to being home. That begins to change when he meets Amira, an Iraqi immigrant who strikes up a relationship with Sam. However, the relationship is put to the test when Amira faces the prospect of deportation.
Amira and Sam is a film catapulted by its two fantastic leading performances. Martin Starr has always been an extremely underrated talent, doing great bit work in several Apatow films and the television show Silicon Valley. Here, though, Starr is the leading man for the first time, and it’s truly a great showcase of his talent. His performance shows his likable personality, while showing a nice balance between his comedic abilities and dramatic chops.
Making her American film debut is Dina Shihabi, who really shows that she has a bright future in this business with her role here. As Amira, Shihabi is able to come across as completely genuine in her role, while giving her character tons of personality. She is radiant onscreen, and I really hope that this is not the last of Shihabi in major film roles.
The reason Amira and Sam works as well as it does is Starr and Shihabi, who have fantastic chemistry together. Every time the two share the screen together, I couldn’t help but smile because of how charming they both are. Their romance feels more sincere than most romances in films these days, with their relationship escalating in a very natural way.
The script here is quite good. Written by first-timer Sean Mullin, the script is the glue that brings this film together. While the performances are great, Mullin really helps in setting up his cast to succeed with great dialogue and natural character development. Every development with the characters feels plausible for who they are, which is something that isn’t always shown in romantic films.
Directing the film as well is Mullin, who brings a great deal of professionalism to the film despite it being his first major outing. The film looks quite good, with Mullin and his cinematographer Daniel Vecchione getting some romantic shots of the city life and the two characters together intimately. Amira and Sam is also paced quite well, moving at a smooth clip throughout its 90 minute running time.
Like with most romantic films, Amira and Sam hits a lot of story notes that you would expect; it’s just what comes with the genre. However, this film is one of the rare exceptions that make these familiar elements feel not quite so cliche. The way it does so is by creating a truly genuine romance that translates as more realistic than most relationships shown in film today. Never, at any point, did the story’s familiar notes ever come across as bothersome to the audience, which is a rare treat.
Amira and Sam had some ambitions of grandeur, but only made half-hearted attempts at realizing them. Mullin’s great script brings up interesting ideas about the economic state of our country, along with the sadly still ever-present racial tension between Americans and Middle Easterners, but these concepts largely feel half-baked. As the audience, we can see Mullin is touching at something unique, but is not fully able to succeed with those ambitions.
Charming, funny, and emotionally captivating throughout, Amira and Sam is a true Indie gem, a film that has sadly slipped through the cracks but certainly deserves audience attention. While it’s not much to say two months into the year, this is my favorite film of 2015 so far, and may stay that for awhile.