When the opportunity arises to journey to Illinois, the son, a gifted private school student, jumps at the chance, and while his mother is a bit more reticent, having a well paying job, finally acquiesces after an incident occurs involving her son and a border agent.
Of course once they get to Illinois, where mom's sister is living with a successful doctor, reality sets in, and we find, as usual, that things can never live up to our expectations. Adding tension to the mix is the post 911 fallout, where anyone looking "Arab" is shunned.
There is a certain empathy to be seen here, though I've seen this type of film before and seen it better (The Kite Runner for example). The filming is very straight forward, and shot with whatever light was available (which gives much of the film a very "home movie" feel to it). The narrative is linear, and on the whole gives you an "ordinary day in the life" attitude, although at times you feel led on a leash as the narrative tries to shoehorn the message and events become just a bit too convenient.
The performance of Nisreen Faour as the mother is a good one, as she maintains a certain inner strength that comes through the lens well. Her son, played by Melkar Muallem is also well played, and in all, in spite of some obvious Indie conventions and the fact that the film is really showing us nothing groundbreaking, does manage to mildly entertain through its less than 100 minute run time, although I cringed at the obvious male attraction, savior to the rescue aspect of the school principal - even while applauding his acceptance, not only for her race, but her, shall we say, overly abundant figure.
"You could have at least chosen Wendy's."
A Palestinian single mother journeys to Illinois with her teenage son, and they encounter anti-Arab racism and financial difficulties.
In many of my reviews, I stay focused on story construction, but Amreeka made me remember that in films we spend two hours getting to know a group of people. Many of the people here, especially Mouna, played by Nisreen Faour, are simply delightful human beings with whom I'm very happy spending time. Even the surly and displaced Raghda, Mouna's sister, has her moments, and it's easy to understand the roots of her anger.
Also, I, along with many others, can write until our fingers turn purple about the plights of the Palestinian people, but Amreeka shows how getting across town, all the while being treated with suspicion, becomes so oppressive and dehumanizing that one is compelled to merely stay at home if one is lucky enough to have one, or in this case, flee.
The film's weakness is its story construction. The film examines many issues - among them, anti-Arab racism, anti-Muslim xenophobia, teenage rebellion, classism, body image issues, etc. - and I don't expect each of these to be wrapped up in a pretty bow, but what the film offers seems blissfully ignorant after it dealt with complexity so deftly just a few moments before.
Overall, Amreeka has some remarkably likable characters, people whom I'd love to introduce you to; we'll spend the day eating falafel burgers at White Castle.
With a couple of contrivances and little story to speak of, "Amreeka" still manages to be an engaging movie that nails the immigrant experience by depicting it as adjusting to a new country while resisting the pulls of the old country. While immigrants may therefore feel like they do not have a country to call their own, the same could certainly also be said of residents of the West Bank.(I hate the wall but I love the graffiti.) And without condescension, the movie also captures the best and worst that small town life has to offer.
An immigrant's story of a Palestinian single mom and her teenage son arrive in rural Illinois to escape a life of oppression, only to face the fallout from America's war on Iraq.
Wow, as heavy as the synopsis sounds, this is one of the most uplifting movies I've seen all year. Mona and her family all face hardships adjusting to life and prejudice in America, from schoolyard bullying to prejudicial patients. Through all the negatives, they manage to pull through and persevere as a family.
Walking into Amreeka, it sounded like a movie I'd seen plenty of times. What makes it succeed is Nisreen Faour in the starring role as Mona - she's bursting with so much energy, innocence, and sincerity that it is impossible not to like her. Highly recommended and a lot of fun to watch
Great cast- Nisreen Faour, Hiam Abbass, Melkar Muallem, Joseph Ziegler, Yussuf Abu-Warda, and Alia Shawkat. Worth seeing!
+ genuine, heartfelt delivery of lines by all cast members; highly believable characters and acting
+ film deals with a serious topic, but is lighthearted enough to be uplifting
+ excellent character development; screenwriting and directing easily makes audience compassionate toward protagonist
- overplays stereotypes
- exaggerates discrimination to the point of unbelievability
- abrupt ending--I would've loved to see more!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Muna Farah lives with her teenage son, Fadi, in Bethlehem on the West Bank. Muna is still sad about being dumped by her husband who left her for a younger, more attractive woman but has managed to stay afloat working at a local bank for the past ten years. When Muna receives notification that her green card application has been approved, she and Fadi pack their bags and move to a suburban town in Illinois where her sister Raghda and her physician husband Nabeel, live.
Before moving in with her sister and brother-in-law (along with their two children), there's a contrived scene where Muna loses all the family savings ($2500) at the airport after customs agents confiscate a tin box of cookies. It seems that Muna had placed the money in the box and wasn't paying attention when the cookies were confiscated (you would think that of all the items they were asked to take out of their bags, the box that contained the money would have been subject to the greatest scrutiny on Muna's part). We learn later that Fadi "tried" to tell his mother that the custom agents had taken the cookies, but for some reason, she "wasn't listening".
Amreeka takes place just at the time the United States has invaded Iraq and anti-Arabic sentiment is high throughout the country. Raghda and Nabeel are directly affected after receiving a threatening letter in their mailbox. Meanwhile, Muna is bent on earning her keep so she tries to find a job. Despite her work experience back home, she can't find a job with a decent salary so she ends up working at White Castle. Whenever her sister drops her off for work, she enters an office building next to the White Castle, in an effort to hide the fact that the best job she was able to get was at a fast food restaurant.
Muna makes sure Fadi is enrolled in the local high school and is in the same class as his cousin, Raghda's daughter, who is an outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation. Eventually, some bullies at the school begin taunting Fadi, calling him "Osama" and telling him that he should go back home.
Muna tries to earn extra money by becoming an MLM distributor of herbal products. Eventually, she qualifies for a credit card and uses it to help her brother-in-law, who's behind on his mortgage payments since he's lost numerous patients due to anti-Arab prejudice.
The second act climax occurs when some of the bullies who had been harassing Fadi, run into Muna while she's working at the White Castle. After exchanging words, one of the bullies spills a drink on the floor and when Muna chases them out, she slips on the wet floor and hurts her back. Nabeel finds her laid out on the floor of the restaurant but determines that she only has a muscle spasm and needs an anti-inflammatory. Fadi decides to take things into his own hands that night and goes to the house of the bully who taunted his mother and gets into a fight with him. Fadi is arrested and Muna sneaks out of the house to go down to the police station to try and win her son's release. She ends up calling the school principal, a Jewish man who she befriended earlier. While the charges have been dropped, the police say that they still have to hold Fadi with the implication that he's being investigated for being a possible terrorist. The police seem extremely insistent but in an implausible scene, the principal manages to convince the police (on the strength of his reputation in the community) to release the boy.
Amreeka ends on a positive note as the family has a nice meal (joined by Muna's friend, the helpful principal) at a Middle Eastern restaurant.
Amreeka is a mildly entertaining, lightweight view of new immigrants coming to America. Writer/Director Cherien Dabis populates the supporting cast with one-dimensional caricatures. The bad guys are the bigoted high school students (who we never get to know as real people). As a counterbalance, there are three characters with 'hearts of gold' who support Muna in her struggle to get ahead in the new country: the aforementioned school principal of Jewish background, the woman who works in the office next door to the White Castle who covers for Muna as she attempts to hide the true nature of her job from her family and the young purple-haired White Castle worker who befriends Muna and sticks up for her when the bullies harass her at work.
Amreeka is full of political pronouncements favoring the Palestinian cause. Nabeel correctly predicts that the Iraqi invasion by the Americans will destabilize the country but is disturbingly silent concerning the thousands murdered by Sadaam during his reign of terror. Muna indicates that she's not Muslim but is she a Palestinian Christian or simply a secular Arab? There is a passing remark that the family was subject to prejudice in the West Bank too, but that issue is never developed.
In a simplistic way, Amreeka suggests that there's both good and bad in America but the characters that are served up to illustrate that point, lack depth. While some of the interactions between Muna and the various people she befriends are interesting, the central plot device, which involves bigoted school bullies, is one big cliché.
It is refreshing to have a picture detailing one aspect of the Palestinian immigrant experience?there haven't been that many films that come to the United States which focus on the ordinary lives of Palestinian people. And the positive message embodied by Muna's talk with her son at the end of the film where she urges him to push forward in life despite obstacles is to be commended. Amreeka does hold your interest throughout but too many of its characters are rooted in caricature, failing to provide enough fully drawn portraits of real people.
The only way for us to get a realistic grip on the immigration problem is to understand better how life is as an immigrant. This movie makes an excellent contribution, by allowing us to feel through the life experiences of Muna and Fadi what it means to leave everything behind - no matter how bad it is - and try to make a new beginning in this country.
If you pay attention, you'll also notice other topics touched upon: gun-controll, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of course, coming of age, single parenthood...
I am amazed how this movie can be so entertaining and beautiful to watch, with all that depth!