Tag Archives: B-

AMREEKA

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B-

The difficulties faced by Palestinian immigrants to the U.S. in the wake of suspicion following the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq provide the context for Cherien Dabis’ earnest comedy-drama, which covers familiar territory but in an unpretentious, and so reasonably pleasant fashion.

Nisreen Faour gives a big-hearted if somewhat sit-comish performance as Muna, a divorcee in Ramallah who’s unexpectedly given the opportunity to escape the confining atmosphere of Israeli occupation—and provide her teen son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) with an American education—by emigrating to the U.S. After a tearful leave-taking from her mother and brother, the two make their way to Chicago, where they’ll initially live with her sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass, strong as usual), her physician husband, and their two daughters.

Unfortunately, misfortune strikes immediately, as Muna loses all the money she’s brought with her, leaving the newcomers without means of their own. And when she tries to find work, despite her background in banking all she can get as a job selling burgers at White Castle, a demeaning circumstance she keeps from the family. Meanwhile Fadi faces bullying at school, despite his cousin Salma’s (Alia Shawkat) support. And as her husband’s practice faces a decline in patients—again as a result of prejudice—Raghda increasingly pushes him to return to Palestine, not realizing (as Muna tells her)) how things have changed for the worse there.

But one shouldn’t think that “Amreeka” (the Palestinian pronunciation) as a screed against bigotry in the U.S. Muna and Fadi meet supportive people—a woman working in a bank near the White Castle, who aids in her deception, and especially the principal of the boy’s school (Joseph Ziegler), who may be Jewish but puts himself on the line with the police when Fadi gets intro trouble, and also takes a shine to Muna. There’s also considerable amusement in Muna’s exasperation over her weight, and her relationship with the young blue-haired dropout who works with her at the burger counter.

And the picture ends on a sweet, upbeat note, with a family meal that includes one new member.

One could never describe “Amreeka” as a hard-hitting treatment of the reception Arabs receive in the United States. It’s critical, but the criticism is gentle rather than biting; and it’s leavened with splashes of humor. And though some of the supporting cast is amateurish (like those school bullies), Faour’s exuberant turn, and her touching relationship with Muallem as a boy trying to fit in, carry the day.

ADAM

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B-

Can a pretty teacher find lasting romance with a young man suffering from Asperger’s syndrome? That’s the question posed by “Adam,” the second feature by long-time playwright and stage director Max Mayer. It sounds like the stuff of a Hallmark Hall of Fame telefilm, but happily Mayer’s sensitivity and the skill of Hugh Dancy and Rose Byrne in the leads raise it to another level.

If your only knowledge of Asperger’s comes from the character of Jerry played by Christian Clemenson on “Boston Legal,” you’ll undoubtedly be surprised by Dancy’s much more subdued turn as the title character here. Adam Raki, whose protective father has just died, is now alone in their NYC apartment. In his case, the autism-related malady involves an inability to “read” others’ thoughts and respond to them appropriately, and as a result Adam seems peculiarly unemotional and stilted though he’s a savant in math and computer matters. His only friend, now that his father is gone, is cabbie Harlan (Frankie Faison), an old army buddy of his dad’s.

Into Adam’s life comes Beth Buchwald (Rose Byrne), a new teacher at a nearby elementary school and an aspiring writer of children’s books. Their initial encounters as neighbors are strained, but after she learns about his condition, they develop a halting friendship that blossoms into love. It’s complicated, however, when Adam loses his job as a software designer, and Beth’s father Marty (Peter Gallagher), a powerful investment consultant, must face trial on charges of misusing a client’s funds. In the end Beth will have to decide whether to go with Adam to a new job at a remote observatory out west.

Mayer’s script has its share of cute moments—bits involving Adam’s habit of reciting streams of abstruse information in conversation and his observation of a raccoon in Central Park, for instance. But he also hits the mark in the more serious episodes between Adam and Beth, and his direction is sensitive as well. And while the subplot regarding Marty gets rather melodramatic (sparked by a performance from Gallagher that holds nothing back), Amy Irving strikes a properly mournful note as his long-suffering but supportive wife. Faison, too, is an avuncular presence.

But “Adam” is as affecting as it is primarily because of Dancy and Byrne, who bring a touching quality to their characters without allowing them to become cloying. Both do good American accents, but more importantly seem genuine rather than disease-movie-of-the-week caricatures. That’s difficult enough for Byrne, of course, but even more so for Dancy, whose carefully calibrated turn always stays within convincing bounds, even when he has an unexpected outburst.

This is a modest film, but it looks fine, with widescreen cinematography by Seamus Tierney that avoids harshness while not getting too glossy, and it sounds well too, with a score by Christopher Lennertz that refuses to italicize the poignancy.

In the end, however, “Adam” is more endearing than shamelessly manipulative simply because Mayer has done his homework and directs with restraint, and he’s fortunate in his leads. It’s Dancy and Byrne who ultimately make this little picture work.