9 June 2009 | anhedonia
Tries to cram in a lot, but still worth seeing
"AmericanEast" is a bold attempt by writers Sayed Badreya - who also plays the lead role - and Hesham Issawi - who directed the film - to show a side of contemporary society that is rarely seen in movies: Post-9/11 America through the eyes of Arabs, Muslims or anyone who looks like one.
This is a noble undertaking, considering that American audiences (unfortunately) seem reluctant to support movies that deal with post-9/11 America. Even though many of these films have nothing to do with the specific attacks that horrible, horrible day.
Perhaps it's our reluctance to accept or see our prejudices on the screen. Or, perhaps it's the belief that anything that deals with post-9/11 America inevitably reminds us of that day and we'd rather not have that. Or, perhaps we just don't want to be told what our government did in our name to "protect" us.
Whatever it is, films such as "AmericanEast" have a tough time trying to find an audience and an even tougher time trying to get released theatrically.
Which is a shame. Because this is a film that really ought to be seen.
It is awfully easy for us to demonize Arabs, Muslims and anyone who looks like one and it was a task made even easier by the previous administration. What Badreya and Issawi venture to do is show us another, rarely seen side, to put human faces on their characters and to make them something more than Hollywood caricatures.
The film works when it concentrates on Mustafa and his store/cafe. The few characters who pepper his establishment are interesting and I loved the idea of Habibi's serving as a meeting place for discussions. It's reminiscent of Sal's pizza parlor in Spike Lee's "Do The Right Thing" (1989), but it still works in "AmericanEast."
That is not to say that "AmericanEast" is a perfect film. Far from it. Issawi and Badreya want so desperately to make a statement with their film that they cram it with way too much stuff. There are plots and subplots here enough for at least another movie.
As attractive as Sarah Shahi is, her character Salwah's subplot is completely superfluous. Salwah is not fleshed out enough and she does things that are never fully explained or thought out. I don't wish to be spoon-fed, but there were moments that seemed utterly incongruous to her nature.
I found Mustafa's young son Mohammed's cross-cultural dilemma and his father's angst over it much more interesting than Salwah's predicament. Even Mustafa's pot-smoking daughter was a more intriguing character, who is barely explored.
Another peeve: The writers' need to be constantly didactic. Characters pause to give speeches about tolerance and humanity. We get it. This is a message film, undoubtedly, but there is no need to be preachy so often.
That having been said, and despite its flaws, I would rather watch this film again than sit through "New in Town" (2009), "What Happens in Vegas" (2008), "Made of Honor" (2008), "My Best Friend's Girl" (2008), "Righteous Kill" (2008) and "Terminator Salvation" (2009), all of which had wide theatrical releases, unlike "AmericanEast."
I am thrilled there are courageous screenwriters and directors, such as the guys behind this film, out there making movies like this, determined to show another very important side of immigrants. Hollywood could sure use more storytellers like Issawi and Badreya.