"Coming to America" films in the past have typically been packaged as either broad comedy (such as uh, Coming to America) or relentlessly bleak dramas (In America) and tend to gravitate towards the urban centers of the United States. Amreeka (marking the debut of L-Word writer-director Cherien Dabis) posits a recently divorced, non-religious Palestinian woman and her son embarking on a journey to the far more recognizable landscape of contemporary American life: the suburbs.
After Muna and her teenage son Fadi are granted visas through a lottery program, they spend precious little decision-making time to determine that their once comfortable life under occupation is becoming so exceedingly dangerous and lacking in opportunity that taking a chance on a new beginning is their only viable option. They move in with her sister in the outer boroughs of Chicago where Muna looks for work as an accountant and Fadi starts at a new high school. Unfortunately, her accent and his timid nature are immediately deemed unacceptable in each of those worlds, leaving her working at a White Castle restaurant and him getting beat up on a regular basis.
Set in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Amreeka feels like a script that started out as a comedy and over the inevitable revision process became exceedingly focused on underlining each character's difficulty. There are great moments of levity during Muna's time at White Castle hanging out with her high school drop out co-workers. And a relationship forged between Muna and a bank manager that didn't hire her are affectionate, while underscoring that even 'good white people' are powerless in a structure of institionalized racism.
Read the rest of my review at Greencine.