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Amira & Sam is a 2014 American film written and directed by Sean Mullin and produced by Terry Leonard, Erich Lochner, and Matt Miller with executive producers James Ponsoldt, Meg Montagnino-Jarrett, and Peter Sobiloff. A romantic comedy set in New York City, the film is about Sam, an American soldier, and Amira, an illegal immigrant from Iraq. Drafthouse Cinemas has the distribution rights.[1]

Amira & Sam
Directed bySean Mullin
Produced by
  • Matt Miller
  • Erich Lochner
  • Terry Leonard
Screenplay bySean Mullin
Music byHeather McIntosh
CinematographyDaniel Vecchione
Edited byJulian Robinson
  • Five By Eight Productions
  • Hole in 1 Productions
  • Strongman
  • Vanishing Angle
Distributed byDrafthouse Films
Release date
  • May 30, 2014 (2014-05-30) (Seattle International Film Festival)
  • January 30, 2015 (2015-01-30) (US)
CountryUnited States
Box office$31,849

The film has several story elements, including capitalism, immigration, life after the military, and attempting to be successful in the entertainment world.[2]



The film is set in New York City in 2008, prior to the Great Recession.[2] Sam, a soldier who had served in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, meets Amira when he visits her uncle, Bassam, who had served as Sam's Iraqi translator. Bassam and Sam have a special bond due to their time together in the war. Initially Amira does not trust him because he was an American soldier and her brother was killed by a bomb from American troops in the war. Sam's cousin, Charlie, asks Sam to help him with illegal hedge funds unbeknownst to Sam at the time. Amira is staying with her uncle Bassam since her father died. She sells bootlegged films on the street corner but is forced to stay with Sam after getting busted; immigration officials begin pursuing her. As the film progresses, Sam and Amira fall in love.


Nabila Pathan of Al Arabiya wrote that the film's protagonists, Amira and Sam, both have "non-conformist" attitudes.[3]

  • Amira Jafari (Dina Shihabi) - A Muslim woman from Iraq, Amira is an illegal immigrant and sells unlicensed movies. She identifies as a Muslim American but is not strict with the Islamic religion.[4]
    • She wears a khimar (hijab) with miniskirts and low-cut tops.[3] This clothing choice is intentional, and when a Muslim woman observing hijab criticizes her choices, Amira responds by telling her to mind her own business. Mullin stated that the scene demonstrates that Amira feels trapped between American and Iraqi cultures and that she does not represent Islam.[5]
    • Shihabi immigrated to the U.S. at age 18 and began living in New York City so she could become an actress; she used her previous experiences of culture shock in her performance as Amira. Previously she resided in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.[3] She stated she was interested in Amira & Sam because of her own background.[6] Shihabi researched the cases of Iraqi translators attempting to come to the U.S. to prepare for her role.[7]
    • Andrew O'Hehir of Salon describes her as "a saucy, rebellious Muslim girl trying out the new roles made available to her, at least temporarily, in America."[8] Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times described her as "a sharp-tongued hottie — hijab above, party below — given to heedless lawbreaking."[9]
  • Sam Seneca (Martin Starr)
    • He is an Italian American former Green Beret sergeant.[8] Unlike many other veterans, he does not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[3] He loses his job as a security guard in an apartment complex after he intentionally traps some poorly-behaving tenants in an elevator. Sam has difficulty fitting into the American culture around him.[5] He also tries to be a stand-up comic.[2]
    • O'Hehir described him as "an introspective guy with a dry wit" and "as laconic as" the fictionalized depiction of Chris Kyle in the film American Sniper.[8] O'Hehir also described Sam as "somewhat the black sheep" in his family.[8] Sheri Linden of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Sam's "deadpan humor makes him the perfect foil for feisty Amira."[2] Nick Schager of The A.V. Club stated that Sam, a "basically a one-note flawless good guy", had lacked charisma and complexity, and was "far more stoic and upstanding" compared to Bertram Gilfoyle of Silicon Valley, another character played by Starr.[10]
  • Bassam Jafari (Laith Nakli)
  • Charlie (Paul Wesley) - Charlie, Sam's cousin and a hedge fund manager, asks Sam to encourage veterans to invest in his financial schemes. As time passes Sam learns the true nature of Charlie's operations.[11]
    • Tom Keogh of the Seattle Times describes him as "manipulative."[12] Linden describes him as "a stereotypical finance guy but not without compassion".[2] Schager, however, stated that Charlie was "an untrustworthy me-first crook" who only values Sam because of his potential usefulness to him.[10]
    • Wesley suggested that Charlie have a pregnant wife in order to give him a motive for engaging in the fraud and to make him more sympathetic; Charlie's motive would be that he would have to take care of his child.[7]
  • Jack (David Rasche)
  • Greg (Ross Marquand)
  • Claire (Taylor Wilcox)

Sean Mullin makes a cameo as the host of a stand-up comedy routine in which Sam performs.[3]


Mullin, a former member of the New York Army National Guard, had performed stand-up comedy and was a first responder in the September 11 attacks. He decided to create the film after hearing about friends in the U.S. military trying to get asylum for their Iraqi translators.[3]


Much of the film was shot on Staten Island.[8]

Shihabi and Naikli used an Iraqi dialect coach,[3] one of Nakli's friends, to refine their Arabic. Shihabi's native dialect is a form of Levantine Arabic while she used Iraqi Arabic in the film.[7]

Nakli also served as an associate producer in recognition of the contributions he made to the film.[3]

The director, Mullin, used suggestions from the actors to shape the film and there were periods where actors improvised.[7]

At the end of the movie, the song "Havre de Grace" by Zerobridge was played.


The release was scheduled for early 2015. A limited theatrical release was planned,[1] scheduled for January 30, 2015. A video on demand release was scheduled for the same day.[13] In addition the film was to be available on home video and digital formats.[1] Amira & Sam grossed $31,849 at the box office.[14]


Catsoulis wrote that the film is "more successful as a portrait of veteran alienation than as a romance."[9]

Linden wrote that it is "a considerable feat" that the film "manages to be engaging and unforced for a good portion of its running time" and that the "low-key warmth" of the main actors is among the most positive elements of the film.[2] She added that "Nothing feels truly at stake, no matter how weighty the risks the characters face".[2]

O'Hehir stated that despite implausibilities in the film, its romance "worked on me, or at least it made me wish that the world of Sam and Amira’s wonderful and unlikely love affair really existed. It’s a better world than ours."[8] O'Hehir added that even though the film had good intentions and any cultural mistakes "are exceptionally mild", "If enough people see this movie, it’s possible that Mullin will come under attack for eroticizing or exoticizing an Arab woman, and/or disrespecting Islam."[8]

Schager gave the movie a "C" ranking, arguing that it was generic even though it had a cultural divide as a theme. Schager criticized the nature of Sam Seneca.[10]

Ben Sachs of the Chicago Reader stated that the "message of tolerance" was "heavy-handed", the romance "unconvincing", and the financial subplot "feels totally misguided".[15]

John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the romantic chemistry between Amira and Sam was "just right".[16]

Alan Scherstuhl of the Village Voice wrote that the film had "implausibilities" but that the romance was overall "stellar". [17]


  1. ^ a b c Yamato, Jen. "Drafthouse Acquires Martin Starr Romance ‘Amira & Sam’" (Archive). Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media, LLC. August 28, 2014. Retrieved on January 28, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Linden, Sheri. "In 'Amira & Sam,' Martin Starr and Dina Shihabi add charm." Los Angeles Times. January 29, 2015. Retrieved on November 16, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Pathan, Nabila. "Rom-com on U.S. veteran, Iraqi refugee love set for silver screen." Al Arabiya. Tuesday January 6, 2015. Retrieved on 15 November 15, 2015.
  4. ^ Harris, Will. "Martin Starr on Amira & Sam, Freaks And Geeks, odd birds, and a whole lot of fun." The A.V. Club. January 29, 2015. Retrieved on November 16, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Luther, Jessica. ""Amira & Sam" is a Rom-Com That Deals With Immigration, Identity, and Love." Bitch. February 16, 2015. Retrieved on November 15 2015.
  6. ^ Menendez, Alicia. "Middle East-born actress Dina Shihabi on proving her mother right: “Acting has taken up my life”." Fusion. January 28, 2015. Retrieved on November 15, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c d Barylski, Nicole (editor-in-chief). "INTERVIEW: Paul Wesley, Dina Shihabi, And Sean Mullin On "Amira & Sam" & The Beauty Of Improv." Retrieved on November 16, 2015. "While she speaks Arabic fluently, she speaks a Palestinian Arabic or Lebanese Arabic, so she had to learn a completely different dialect of Arabic."
  8. ^ a b c d e f g O'Hehir, Andrew. "“Amira & Sam”: Meet the rom-com antidote to “American Sniper”" (Archive). Salon. January 28, 2015. Retrieved on January 29, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Catsoulis, Jeanette. "Take My Iraqi Niece, Please." The New York Times. January 29, 2015. Print: January 30, 2015, p. C9, New York Edition. Retrieved on February 11, 2015.
  10. ^ a b c Schager, Nick. "Amira & Sam’s cultural divide doesn’t liven up a clichéd genre piece." The A.V. Club. January 29, 2015. Retrieved on November 17, 2015.
  11. ^ Noh, David. "Film Review: Amira & Sam." Film Journal International. January 30, 2015. Retrieved on February 11, 2015.
  12. ^ Keogh, Tom. "‘Amira & Sam’ deals with love and casualties of war Archived February 12, 2015, at the Wayback Machine." The Seattle Times. Thursday January 29, 2015. Retrieved on February 11, 2015.
  13. ^ Rich, Katey. "This Is the Best Way to Ruin a Date at the Movies" (Archive). Vanity Fair. January 27, 2015. Retrieved on January 28, 2015.
  14. ^ "Amira & Sam BO".
  15. ^ Sachs, Ben. "Amira & Sam " (Archive). Chicago Reader. Retrieved on November 18, 2015.
  16. ^ DeFore, John. "'Sam & Amira': SIFF Review" (Archive). The Hollywood Reporter. May 30, 2014. Retrieved on January 29, 2015.
  17. ^ Scherstuhl, Alan. "Martin Starr is Grand in American-Iraqi Rom-Com Amira & Sam" (Archive). Village Voice. January 28, 2015. Retrieved on January 28, 2015. See also at Houston Press.

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