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Aww-right! A Deetroit rom-com with Arabs! What could be cooler?
Actually, not much. Forget Clint Eastwood and "Gran Torino". Detroit is
hip and multicultural despite the ghetto image. Ms. Nashef's first
feature, almost certainly the first comedy focused on Arab-Americans,
is must-see for anyone with a Detroit connection. However, everyone
will enjoy this story of the unlikely courtship of a 20-ish fellow who
inherits his father's gas bar under unfortunate circumstances and his
sassy, bright girlfriend, both from Dearborn's Arab-American community.
It is an often hilarious take on how the second generation balances the
traditional mores of their immigrant parents with mainstream American
values. Wrapped all night in his plexiglass "cage" in his gas station,
Sami (E.J. Assi) dreams of Naj (Nada Shouhayib), and gradually woos her
through all night talk and flirtation under the counter (and, no, she
is not that kind of girl!). Along the way there are whacked out but
also surprisingly friendly encounters with his largely African-
American customers, despite the plexiglass wall. Ms. Nashef doesn't
hide the ghetto where the station is located (actually near East Grand
Boulevard and Woodward), nor does she exaggerate or stereotype it. She
has a fine comic touch (my favourite scene is when Naj and her
girlfriends drive to the gas bar to check out Sami after a night of
surreptitious and forbidden clubbing), but also displays her
characters' confusion and inner conflict in a heartfelt fashion. In the
Q&A after the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, Ms.
Nashef said that she kept religion out of the film -- indeed, there are
no hijabs in sight -- in order to focus on the Arab immigrant
experience; this renders the film somewhat artificial, however. The
movie flies along but winds up a bit too quickly, my only gripe with
otherwise flawless pacing. When asked after the movie how her rather
untraditional career has been received by her community, she said that
she has had terrific support from her family but "my mom still wants me
to get married". Hey, she's a catch, and given her talent and drive,
she will be a rich one, too.
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