Movies about immigrants coming to America are a dime a dozen, so nobody’s saying Amreeka is groundbreaking. It is, however, warmhearted, pleasant and perfectly enjoyable.
Harried single mother Muna (Nisreen Faour) lives with her mother and teenage son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) in the little town of Bethlehem, circa 2003. Muna works at a bank, a commute that once took 15 minutes but now takes two hours, thanks to Israeli checkpoints and other inconveniences associated with living in Palestine. Fadi describes the situation as being “prisoners in our own country.”
When an opportunity arises to emigrate to America, Muna and Fadi jump on it, moving in with Muna’s sister Raghda (Hiam Abbass) and her doctor husband Nabeel (Yussef Abu Warda) in suburban Illinois—an improvement over Palestine, but still not ideal. In the recent wake of the Iraq invasion, anti-Arab ignorance has resulted in some of Nabeel’s patients leaving him. Fadi experiences taunting at school. And Muna is forced to take a menial job at White Castle after no bank will hire her.
Yet this is not a movie about racism faced by Palestinian immigrants. When Muna and Fadi are detained at the airport, the film treats it more with amusement than outrage, and it doesn’t seem to be Muna’s nationality that prevents her from getting a bank job. Instead, this is a movie about the importance of family and culture, the inherent decency of people. Fadi and Salma’s principal (Joseph Ziegler) befriends the family; a fellow White Castle employee (Brodie Sanderson) helps Muna; and the intrafamily squabbling that arises out of stress is eventually resolved peacefully.
The child of Palestinian/Jordanian immigrants, first-time writer/director Cherien Dabis includes a few oversimplified plot elements, and Fadi’s ability to discern exactly which punks were picking on his mother based solely on their description as “teenagers” strains credulity. But apart from details like that, there’s little not to like about this charming little comedy for the Palestinian refugee in all of us.
Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass