August 28, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Amreeka' -- GRADE: B

'Amreeka': A modern immigrant tale told well

Nisreen Faour stars as polite and bright Muna in "Amreeka." (First Generation Films)

It's 2003 and Muna (Nisreen Faour), a divorced mother, and her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) have just received some surprising news at their Palestinian home. They are being allowed to move to America.

It's a chance to start a new life. Muna hopes to find a job in a bank, like the one she had for 10 years in Palestine. Fadi hopes to finish high school and go to college.

And as they land on American soil, the United States is preparing to invade Iraq.

Which shouldn't matter to Muna and Fadi. They're not Iraqi. They're not even Muslim.

But it does matter, just as it mattered to all people of Middle Eastern descent at the time. And soon Muna and Fadi find themselves trying to adapt to a new world while an ugly cultural backlash is rearing its ugly head.

All of which makes "Amreeka," written and directed by Cherien Dabis, sound like a major political downer, something it very much isn't. Indeed, Dabis' great accomplishment here is in maintaining a feeling of familial warmth in the face of opposition, prejudice and just plain bad timing.

The source of most of this warmth is Faour as Muna, a woman who simply refuses to be beaten down. She loses her life savings, the family of her sister (Hiam Abbass from "The Lemon Tree") is stressed by both her arrival and the day's politics, Fadi's welcome to America is brutal, yet the polite and bright Muna perseveres.

Dabis dares to be optimistic while unflinchingly realistic in "Amreeka," never putting halos over the character; and it's that sense of flesh and blood that makes the movie work. A portrait of our times painted from an immigrant's mirror, "Amreeka" should be seen by every American.