2009 // USA // Cherien Dabis // November 15, 2009 // Theatrical Print (Hi-Pointe Theater)
Triteness wins out over heartfelt sentiment in Cherien Dabis' take on the Immigrant Experience Film, Amreeka, a by-the-numbers celebration of tolerance, love, perseverance, etc., etc., etc. Here the immigrants in question are divorcee Muna (Nisreen Faour) and her teen son Fadi (Melkar Muallem), Palestinians who journey to small-town Illinois where they settle in awkwardly with the Westernized family of Muna's sister (Hiam Abbass, whom I adore... but Christ, can we give another Arabic actress a shot, please?). Amreeka hits all the standard indie drama and comedy notes, but its approach is graceless and its insights insufficient to warrant a retreading of such familiar territory. The narrative is tightly constructed, but utterly predictable, and the messaging is so overwarmed--Racism sucks! Family is important!--as to be off-putting. Faour, who fills Muna with eager-to-please earnestness and anxious confusion, is likable enough, so much that the film's best moments of humor come courtesy of her, while those at her expense just seem mean-spirited. The film's occasional wit enlivens its otherwise bland turns, but next to a keenly observed marvel like In Between Days, or even Sundance darlings like The Visitor and Frozen River, this is tired stuff.