A charming though somewhat uneven look at the life and loves of a Pakistani-Amerian woman and her family living in New York City.
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There’s very much a “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” feel to “Americanish,” along with a host of other immigrant romance/comedies we’ve seen down the years. It’s also a self-conscious paean to “Coming to Movie,” a film cited several times during the movie as a favorite cultural touchstone.
The twist here is that the heroine, Sam, very much does not want to get married. She’s a go-getting career woman of almost 30 who wants to move out of her mother’s apartment and enjoy her own life — with boys very much on the side.
Sam is played by Aizzah Fatima, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Iman K. Zawahry. It’s not often you see a film helmed by Muslim women of Middle Eastern origins, giving us a biting love/hate take on their cultures and how assimilating in American can be such a depressing chore.
Sam’s mother (Lillete Dubey) very much sticks to strict homeland mores about love and marriage: namely, the last should come first. She desperately wants Sam and her kid sister, pre-medical student Maryam (Salena Qureshi), to find husbands (preferably doctors) as soon as possible. And yet, she treats Sam’s desire to spread her wings as traitorous.
Leave home with a husband, she warns, or leave and don’t come back.
Complicating matters is that their cousin, Ameera (Shenaz Treasury), has just arrived from their homeland with the singular mission of finding a Pakistani-American doctor to marry. Of course, he must also be tall, not too old and have hair. Ameera is a sweetheart but hopelessly naive about how romance works in the Big Apple — plus, she snores, further grating Sam’s nerves.
Ameera befriends a local bodega owner, Godfrey (Gabriel Jackson), who’s gorgeous and kind and a Muslim to boot, but also Black. And her auntie and other matronly figures in the community aren’t shy about spouting their own xenophobic barbs.
She actually manages to find her perfect doctor groom (Ajay Naidu), though he’s a thoroughly Americanized fellow who stares at his phone all the time and prefers to order steak… “and make it bleed.”
At work Sam is running the social media for Douglas Smarts (George Wendt), a virulently racist U.S. senator who runs on an anti-immigrant platform, while bucking for a much-deserved promotion from the boss (David Rasche), which of course goes to a basic white dude instead.
There’s a little bit of a suggestion of a romance with Zane (Mohammed Amer), a goofball who turns out to be a cop, though Sam isn’t about to be rushed into anything. Frankly, this little love connection seems inserted and then mislaid.
Meanwhile, kid sister Maryam’s love life is almost worthy of its own movie. She falls hard for a handsome fellow premed student, Shahid (Kapil Talwalkar), following him around like a moony puppy. When his girlfriend unexpectedly dumps in, she’s able to swoop in and a wedding seems imminent.
Maryam claims to be much more traditional than Sam, wearing a headscarf and waiting until after marriage for sex, or even kissing. Shahid is the same mindset, but when their MCAT scores and medical school choices don’t line up, she’ll have to make some hard decisions about which path to follow.
There’s a lot of things to like about “Americanish,” starting with a charming cast. There’s plenty of neighborly humor and good-natured ribbing.
I have to say Sam isn’t the most compelling protagonist — she comes across as something of a resentful grump, someone who doesn’t fully belong to her family, her community or her job. Frankly, the movie picks up energy whenever we switch to other characters’ story arcs. I wonder if the movie would have worked better by just focusing on Maryam and Ameera.
Still, this is a feel-good movie that goes out of its way let you know it means to pluck your heart and evoke a tear or two, and does just that.