'amira & sam' is 2015's most potent cult-classic

so far...

photo courtesy of drafthouse films

When a film tackles issues of war, xenophobia, friendship, race, and class, it's pretty much never within a romantic comedy. Call Amira & Sam the exception to that rule: The indie rom-com relays all of these ambitious themes in a charming and (gasp!) realistic way. 

The story—the brainchild of writer/director Sean Mullin—is about Iraqi immigrant Amira (Shihabi) and war veteran Sam (Starr). It chronicles their concurrent assimilation to post-9/11 America, and their will-they-won't-they relationship that quickly evolves until they become outlaw lovers. It's a cult-classic in the making, due in large part to the film's stars, Martin Starr and Dina Shihabi.

Although the film sounds pretty dense, at its most basic, Amira & Sam is a character study. "You see these two outsiders who have a lot in common," explains Shihabi. "It gets into different cultures and tells the story of an immigrant without it being preachy; it's about the people."

Little details—like Amira peddling bootleg Yes Man DVDs on the streets of New York and Sam's hesitation about his cousin Charlie's (The Vampire Diaries' Paul Wesley) shady business dealings—may seem contradictory at times. But, much to the film's merit, the melding of the characters makes complete sense. "I think one of the things that she falls in love with is the fact that Sam—from the beginning—is so truly and genuinely himself," says Shihabi. "It's like they immediately understand each other. He immediately understands her and gives her the space she needs and then she just goes for it when she wants to."

Without giving much away, the film ends on an idyllic, overly idealist note. And while such an ending might lead to skepticism (and subsequently ruin) other films, it somehow works in Amira & Sam. "There's this marriage between fantasy and reality in love stories," says Shihabi. "I think when you fall in love, there's a part that is so connected to your dreams about life."

As anyone who has watched Freaks and GeeksSilicon Valley, or Party Down knows, it's no small feat to share a scene with Starr. And in his first true starring role, Shihabi, a virtually unknown actress, rivals the lanky 6'1'' star. She matches his endearing geekiness with an incredible amount of warmth and charm. If this movie is any indication, Shihabi is on her way to a long, fruitful career.