This low-key first feature by Cherien Dabis, which follows an Arab woman, Muna (Nisreen Faour), and her teenage son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), from the West Bank to rural Illinois, should have been a rebuke to the likes of Crash, Frozen River, and The Visitor; instead, it too often feels like a catalog of their worst offenses. In the West Bank, Muna suffers the indignities of Israeli checkpoints, her mother’s perpetual harping, and shopping for tomatoes in the same store as the svelte honey that wrecked her marriage, until the surprise arrival of a U.S. Green Card promises a reprieve from her perpetually frazzled daily grind. A shot of the woman framed under the bridged arms of her brother and mother during a farewell celebration is a striking image of familial solidarity, both emotionally credible and proof that Dabis shares Abdellatif Kechiche’s talent for capturing the nuances of familial struggle, but noxious displays of racism more or less dominate the rest of Amreeka. Squeaking into America on the heels of Dubya dropping his first bombs over Baghdad, it’s downhill for Muna and her son after they lose their meager savings while passing through an airport’s humiliating security check: Muna is looked at by potential employers as if she were Saddam Hussein himself and her son is tormented by a school bully who believes the war in Iraq is being waged on behalf of Fadi’s freedom, which apparently doesn’t include his right not to be subjected to hate speech. Bless Dabis for recognizing the shame of educated immigrants having to work beneath their potential in foreign lands (Muna pretends to work at a bank adjacent to the White Castle where she’s really employed, selling diet drinks on the side to help out with her family’s mortgage), but she buys into a narrow-minded and cartoonish view of whites as either hatemongers or relatives of Richard Jenkins’s naïve do-gooder from The Visitor. Allegorical import is effusively shoehorned into nearly every scene, so a minute doesn’t go by where the audience isn’t being lectured to about the hurt of racism, the absurdities of assimilation, the perpetual sense of displacement felt by Palestinians, and the contributions Arabs have made to popular culture. The end result isn’t a relaxed and incantatory celebration of cross-cultural friction that finds emotional and spiritual resonance in the mundane, a la The Secret of the Grain, but a sitcomish harangue.
- 96 min
- Cherien Dabis
- Cherien Dabis
- Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Alia Shawkat, Jenna Kawar, Selena Haddad, Yussuf Abu-Warda, Joseph Ziegler, Andrew Sannie, Daniel Boiteau, Brodie Sanderson
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