Saturday movie review: Amira & Sam

I'm not one for mushy, gushy romantic movies, aka "chic flicks." At least not very often. I do, though, enjoy films that have a decent dose of romance—minus the mushy gushy—wrapped up in a good story.

The quirky romantic comedy AMIRA & SAM is my kind of film, with a good balance of sweet and silly amidst some serious social issues.

Amira & Sam DVD

Sam (Martin Starr) is veteran Marine Sargent who's returned home to NYC after several tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other scary spots. He befriended a native translator while in Iraq, now immigrated to NYC. When he visits that Iraqi friend to make good on a promise, Sam knocks heads with the friend's niece, Amira (Dina Shihabi), who's working to establish citizenship in the U.S.

The relationship between Amira and Sam starts off as more of a hateship, at least on Amira's part. When she needs to hide out from the cops (for selling pirated DVDs on the street), Sam promises his friend he'll protect Amira til the friend returns from an over-the-road trucking trip.

Things heat up from there for Amira and Sam, despite them coming from different worlds. Ultimately, the reality of those worlds leads to serious ramifications for the potential couple.


I found the chemistry between the leads refreshingly spirited yet tender. Though not a typical romantic lead, I just loved Martin Starr as Sam, who was funny and silly and sweet and loyal. Starr won a Best Actor award at one film festival for his portrayal of Sam, so I'm clearly not alone in my admiration for his performance. (The film itself won several awards for best feature at various film festivals.)

Dina Shihabi plays Amira tough as nails, an independent woman trying to break away from a culture that insists she be taken care of by a man, yet now in a culture mostly unwilling to get to know her much less accept her. Bonus points for writer/director Sean Mullin: Shihabi is absolutely beautiful yet her sex appeal was not exploited in any way for the part or the plot.

Mullin created a well-written story that's deeper than it first seems, touching on thought-provoking issues related to Muslims in America and reintigration of returning war vets. Despite what could be heavy themes, the chuckles are many, and some beautifully shot scenes took my breath away—until the spell was broken by unexpected dialogue that made me laugh out loud.

If pressed, I'd have to say that's one of the best parts of AMIRA & SAM: the dialogue. Especially Sam's, whether it's when interacting with Amira, his friend, or his fairly smarmy cousin and others. His lines were subtle yet strong and quite funny without relying on gimmicks.

Speaking of dialogue, there is pretty heavy-duty F-word usage throughout. Even by Amira—which is necessary for one particularly hilarious conversation between her and Sam. I wouldn't turn down the film based on the language, though, for you'd be missing a funny and romantic film that's not your typical rom-com.

I'm delighted to have been introduced to Dina Shihabi via AMIRA & SAM. I'll be watching for her in films to come. Here she talks about playing Amira:

AMIRA & SAM (not rated) was released theatrically in the U.S. in January and is now available on DVD and streaming. Find out more at