SDAFF 2021: ‘Americanish’ Reviewed – Having What You Want Without Compromising Your Roots

by Gary Catig

Often times, tales featuring the diaspora, regardless of ethnicity, feature assimilating into a new land. At the San Diego Asian Film Festival, Lumpia, is such a motion picture. Another selection for the event, Americanish, addresses the same issue but provides a New York centric and Pakistani point of view.

The movie follows siblings, Maryam and Sam, and their cousin, Ameera, who has recently arrived in their Jackson Heights home. The three young women turn to all the conventional ways to gain their mother’s approval while also trying to living their own lives. Sometimes, it’s difficult for them to pursue both.

Americanish addresses the cultural and generational issues that each of the protagonists encounter in a tangible and engaging way. As a person of color, Sam wrestles with working for an “America First” political candidate and helping him be elected. It’s an interesting contrast between her and her client since both are willing to bend their ideals in order to achieve their goals. Sam is also most likely to clash with her mother because she’s the one who has adopted western life the most and it plays into an interesting dynamic.

Maryam is the more traditional of the sisters but she too finds herself compromising her beliefs. Once she learns her crush is single, she turns up her feminine charms to be noticed even discarding her headscarf. However, compared to Sam, there are lines she’s unwilling to cross because of her traditional upbringing.

As much as the children feel they don’t quite belong, there is also the evolution of the mother. We witness in the opening scene how her clinging to the old ways cost her her husband. Now with her daughters and niece grown up, it’s also about her being more flexible and accepting to the current norms in her new country.

The character interactions can tug at your emotions. There are some surprising joyful moments during Maryam’s courtship. However, those closest to you such as family, know each other so well, that they recognize exactly what buttons to push. During the rocky times between the characters, it can be tense considering the low blows thrown.

From the romantic side of the film, the love interests are portrayed by some charismatic actors. Godfrey plays Gabriel Jackson, one of Ameera’s potential suitors. He and Shenaz Treasury have a playful chemistry with each other and it’s a fun journey to see how Gabriel gradually changes Ameera’s rather idealistic perceptions of America and of himself. Mohammed Amer is the man trying to win the heart of Sam. He comes off as a loveable oaf that you like more and more each time you see him. Both are good matches for their respective interests.

The recycled tropes in Americanish can hold the movie back a little. Sam is the bright young woman who is a victim of the male bias at work and is always overlooked. Maryam is the super focused aspiring doctor and must later chose between her family or career. But they don’t detract too much.

Americanish is touching film that emphasizes love, family, and the ability to pursue success without selling out your roots.

The San Diego Asian Film Festival runs from now until Saturday November 6th.

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