Muna is a non-religious Palestinian, which makes her an outsider on both sides of the Israeli checkpoint she has to pass daily on the way to her job as a bank accountant. She dreams of emigrating to America with her teenage son, Fadi, so he can grow in a less sectarian society. When against all odds, she wins the U.S. lottery for green cards, they leave for a new life that is more, and less, than they expected.
So begins "Amreeka," Cherien Dabis' heart-warming and funny first feature, with a title that uses the Arabic word for "America." Muna and Fadi have the misfortune to arrive soon after the start of the war in Iraq, when Homeland Security is in a lather and anti-Arab sentiment runs high. Her life savings are confiscated by customs agents at O'Hare, along with the cookie tin she kept them in. She arrives in a distant Chicago suburb with no money but high hopes. "Occupation?" asks the immigration official. "Yes, we are occupied," she smiles proudly.
They move in with her sister and her husband, a doctor. Muna (Nisreen Faour, from "The Visitor") is fully qualified in accounting, but her ethnicity causes her to lose a bank job. She finds work at a nearby White Castle, hiding this comedown from her family. She can't understand why anybody would want to eat one of those greasy sliders. If it is any consolation to the good sports at White Castle, who allowed a real restaurant to be used as a location, they looked mighty appetizing to me.
Her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) finds an ally in Salma (Alia Shawkat), a cousin about the same age. She masterminds an American teenage wardrobe for him, and is a friend at school, where he is bullied for being an Arab (i.e., possible teenage terrorist). At home, his uncle the doctor (Yussef Abu Warda) sees his practice decline for the same reason. Does it occur to xenophobic Americans that almost all immigrants, like their own ancestors, came here because they admire the United States? Someone please explain that to Lou Dobbs.