10 July 2002 | mweston
The year is 1979. There are lines at the gas stations and a revolution in Iran. As the film opens, we see archival news footage from the latter story as the soundtrack plays "Good Times Roll" by The Cars. We meet Maryam (Mariam Parris), who is a high school senior in New Jersey. She was born in Iran, but knows almost nothing of that culture. She is the anchor for the school television news program, goes by the name Mary at school, and generally seems comfortable in her life, although her parents are a little more strict than most.
Soon she learns that her cousin Ali (David Ackert) is coming from Iran to live with the family and attend a local university. Ali's father died years ago, and his mother recently died as well. When he arrives, he seems very uncomfortable with American life -- people (even women!) shake hands, dance, and do all sorts of things that Ali is used to thinking of as immoral in his native, Ayatollah Khomeini-controlled country. Ali thinks the Ayatollah has been a *good* change for Iran, and that the deposed Shah is evil. Maryam's reply is that the Ayatollah "calls the U.S. the Great Satan. I mean, the guy could lighten up a little."
The key characters in the film are Maryam and Ali. I thought Parris was outstanding in the former role, showing both emotion and typical high school irreverence with equal skill. Ackert was harder to judge, but he did make me believe that Ali was *very* uncomfortable with most of what he saw of America, and I can't recall any sour notes in his performance, so it was at least acceptable. The remaining actors, especially Maryam's parents, were less developed but also quite believable.
The writing, direction, cinematography, and so on were also quite good, but what really sets this film apart is the way that it shows how hateful and intolerant American society can be. Especially after the American embassy hostages are taken, almost everyone becomes very cold to the entire family -- the militant Islamic Ali as well as the totally Americanized Maryam -- regardless of past friendships. Because we have had the opportunity to get to know these Iranians as human beings, the escalating hatred is that much harder to watch.
This film was made well before the events of 9/11, so the obvious parallels to the current distrust of anyone who looks like he might be Afghani were not planned. But this film is outstanding in its ability to remind us to see the person and not the label. See it if you have the chance. Unfortunately, it has closed where I saw it, so you might be forced to wait (and hope) for home video.
Seen on 6/19/2002.