Although “Amira & Sam” takes place in New York City, the film concentrates on a small, intimate love story. This isn’t a flaw; the story is compact and tight. It may seem difficult to make a romantic-comedy about a soldier who’s returned from overseas, but director and writer Sean Mullin succeeds by pulling the story away from the actual war. He focuses intensely on the strongly developed main characters, who are a joy to watch.
Military veteran Sam (Martin Starr) returns from combat overseas and finds work as a security guard, while unsuccessfully trying to make it as a stand-up comedian. When completing a favor for friend and fellow veteran Bassam (Laith Nakli), he has an awkward encounter with his friend’s niece Amira (Dina Shihabi) — an illegal Iraqi immigrant. They meet for a second time when Bassam asks Sam to hide Amira from the police, who are threatening to deport her. Slowly, the pair grow closer and eventually fall for one another. Determined to not be separated, the two seek a way to keep Amira in the country.
The strongest aspect of the film is the relationship between the leads. The pair has wonderful chemistry and serves as a perfect example of opposites attracting — Amira is brash and initially dislikes authority figures, whereas Sam is introverted and ambitious.
Shihabi manages to make the abrasive Amira incredibly likeable through her boldness in acting. Starr gives the timid and reserved Sam a sharp, quiet sense of humor. It’s enjoyable seeing the relationship of these two unfold through a series of lighthearted sequences, such as when Sam takes Amira boating on New York’s bay. The culmination of their relationship, detailed in the film’s surprising ending, is incredibly heartwarming and satisfying.
Although the story tackles tough themes, such as a struggling veteran readapting to civilian life, the movie isn’t bogged down by these serious topics. Sam isn’t a battle-worn soldier struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s just trying to readjust to life by talking with old friends and engaging in his passion for comedy. The film’s humor, packed with clever one-liners, certainly helps alleviate these serious undertones.
Despite the strong leads, the secondary characters fall flat. Sam’s cousin Charlie (Paul Wesley) plays a scumbag businessman who has little else to offer. Amira’s uncle Bassam is decent as a caring guardian, but he gets very few scenes.
A lack of variety also plagues the secondary cast. With the exception of Bassam, every other minor character is a businessman or stockbroker. The main reason Mullin includes this group of New York socialites is to highlight how Amira and Sam are outsiders in the world of wealthy business leaders. The film briefly explores issues of race and cultural understanding between the two groups. A prime example is when a socialite asks Amira whether she is “required” to wear her hijab. Despite Mullin’s attempt to insert his message, it’s still jarring that a subplot about business deals and the 1 percent is juxtaposed with a romantic story.
“Amira & Sam” offers a small, complex love story between two people with incredibly different backgrounds. Despite its weak secondary characters, the film manages to keep the focus on the main, emotional crux of the tale. Ultimately, Mullin successfully enacts his vision of a multicultural romantic-comedy through two brilliant characters.