Amira and Sam is, at its heart, a love story, and it never tries to be anything but. Sam is an ex-solider who is trying to find his way upon his return from the war. He meets Amira, the niece of an Iraqi translator with whom Sam served and formed a deep friendship. Amira isn't all that fond of American soldiers, but when she runs into some immigration problems Sam offers to let her stay with him. Of course, they don't get along at first, and, of course, she begins to soften on him, and, of course, their friendship begins to develop into something more.
It seems a little easy and a bit trite, but that's just how romance films work. What makes Amira and Sam fun and effective is Martin Starr. Starr plays the lead, Sam, and is fantastic in the role. Subtle, funny, dry, awkward at times, confident at others, Starr really gives the character the weight and depth of a real person. When it comes to romantic movies, that is what really makes or breaks them. Regardless of the framework, motivations and circumstances, all the smart dialogue and pretty faces, none of it will work unless the actors can make you care about the characters. Starr really makes us like Sam, and in turn makes us very invested in Sam's arc. We want Sam to succeed, we want Sam to be happy, and when things are going poorly for him, we really want Sam to overcome those obstacles and come out on top.
In addition to Starr's excellent performance, another part of what makes the film work is how it uses the soldier returned from war trope. Instead of Sam being this tortured, conflicted, and grizzled veteran that has seen too much and returns to a world that he no longer understands, Sam is just a regular guy that served his country because he thought it was the right thing to do and comes back to a world where doing the right thing really doesn't matter. He struggles not with the horrors of war and his actions overseas but with trying to maintain his ideals in an apathetic and crooked world. Sam is given an opportunity by his cousin (played by Paul Wesley of Vampire Diaries) to help him manage hedge funds, particularly those of his clients who are military veterans. Sam is offered an obscene amount of money, but his cousin's dealings may not be exactly on the up and up.
Where I feel the film falls a little flat is Amira's character development. I feel as if she is a little too quick to soften on Sam, but I am willing to overlook it because Dina Shihabi really owns the role and gives Amira the emotional weight she needs. In order for us to accept that Sam is truly in love with her, she has to be someone that is truly lovable, and not just a frowny face painted on a board, like Kristen Stewart for example.
There are a few flaws, but overall Amira and Sam is a superbly acted film, and is a very real and adult love story. Considering that this is writer/director Sean Mullin's first feature length film, Amira and Sam is a great romance. Never too cliché, never heavy or morally preachy, it makes us feel for the characters and gets us invested in their struggle, and we really want them to just be able to be happy together.