Amira and Sam

Directed by Sean Mullin
Starring Martin Starr, Paul Wesley & Dina Shihabi
In US Cinemas January 30th, 2015 (Limited)

by Joanna Orland

Martin Starr’s dramatic potential is finally realized in a role worthy of his talents.  As title character Sam in director Sean Mullin’s debut feature Amira and Sam, Starr gives a brilliantly modest and naturalistic performance as an ex-soldier trying to assimilate back into society after nearly a decade of serving in the Middle East.  His cousin Charlie (Paul Wesley) boldly represents capitalism in all of its shame and glory as a hedge-fund manager utilizing his cousin Sam’s military past to woo lucrative veteran clients.  In addition to his relationship with Charlie, Sam begins to forge one with Amira, an Iraqi refugee who is living in America illegally.  Ethics, social infrastructures, classism, racism and militarism are all examined in this charming package of a comedy, drama, romance film that will easily win over the hearts of its audience as strongly as Sam wins over Amira’s.

While there is much more richness to this film than merely Starr’s excellent performance, it’s hard not to dwell on just how good he is.  Fifteen years ago, Starr became a cult sensation as the finest geek Bill Haverchuck in Freaks and Geeks alongside other stars who seemed to follow with more prominent careers including James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen.   Starr followed with roles in other Apatow productions and another cult hit Party Down, but only seemed to truly experience a resurgence this year with his new HBO hit Silicon Valley where he plays Gilfoyle, a much edgier geek than Haverchuck ever would grow up to be.  To see his sardonic comedy transform into a humble drama where he can make you both laugh and cry with merely his demeanor is quite special.  Even in this modest performance, there is still room for Starr’s brand of comedy which he skillfully adds to the character in moments of passing humour and in the pursuit of Sam’s passion for standup comedy.

The supporting actors are also very strong.  Paul Wesley is perfectly cast as Charlie, a role that couldn’t be more different from his character in The Vampire Diaries.  Dina Shihabi is charming as Amira, the love interest of Sam, but also a character with a complex back story that is touched upon but unfortunately not as fully developed as Sam’s.  While the film’s title suggests that there are two leads in this film, Amira feels more like a catalyst for Sam rather than an equal.

With Amira and Sam, director Mullin has told an excellent tale of a soldier returning home from war where the soldier is fine, but it’s the country that has lost its mind.  Packaged as an ‘intimate love story with universal implications’ this story is deeply enjoyable and will hopefully be the catalyst to Martin Starr’s dramatic career.

Leave a Reply