Very clearly Americanish is a film all about the American dream through the eyes of first-generation children of immigrants. Maryam and Sam (aka Sameem) are Pakistani-Americans who welcome the arrival of their cousin Ameera, newly immigrated to America in search of a nice Pakistani-American doctor now that she’s on the brink of 30. The trio then falls into numerous scenes right out of the rom-com genre, juggling love, life, and career, with the added pressure of marriage and pressure from within their community to marry “right.”
For Sam and Maryam, who have assimilated to American culture, their goals are on their career. Sam is a brilliant marketer who has sold her soul working for a firm with an awful racist politician as a client but grits her teeth through being overlooked, spoken over, and basically insulted on a daily basis to achieve #girlboss status. In the process, she rejects her mother’s guilt trips about living an independent life and demands for her to find a husband, choosing instead to enjoy casual sex and embrace her life as a “stereotypical American.”
Maryam is studying for her MCAT with an eye on Harvard Med to study Pediatrics. She wears a headscarf, tries to keep halal, and is devoutly Muslim… kind of. She’s focused more on becoming a doctor than marrying a doctor husband. While, Ameera, their cousin, is newly immigrated and leans into all of the presumed stereotypes of a newly immigrated person. Bargaining with the grocer at the local shop, looking for the “perfect” husband, looks wide-eyed out at Jackson Heights, Queens proclaiming, “This is America, where dreams come true.” These stereotypes are played for laughs, and it would be questionable if Ameera doesn’t eventually burst out of the stereotype into her own character.
Americanish is, in many ways, a light-hearted rom-com. It doesn’t ever deal with anything too serious, despite the characters being primed for it. They tiptoe around racist vitriol, misogyny, and generational emotional abuse, and in some ways, that’s a breath of fresh air. It presents an airy, if albeit unrealistic, story about three women navigating the world as Pakistani-Americans with only a nod to some of the deeper issues they might face. There’s one moment where Sam and Maryam are told to go back to their country, but never once do you think that they are in any real danger. After all, the film is coded in a way where we know that our heroines will win at the end of the day.
So, in other ways, Americanish gets lost in its own vision of an unrealistic American dream. It’s best to watch the film from the perspective of a rom-com instead of any truly deep story about race or family or love. Nobody thinks How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, When Harry Met Sally, or She’s All That is a true depiction of real-life or romance, but we all go into the movie agreeing that we’ll suspend our disbelief for a while.
When it comes to Iman Zawahry’s direction, the film is reminiscent of romcoms from the height of the early 2000s, is that intentional or even something we need to revisit? That’s for the viewer to decide. Some of the sets feel like they’ve been plucked right out of a set for stock images, but you can hardly blame an indie film for that. The cast does a decent job embodying their roles, with my favorite being Salena Qureshi’s Maryam, whose story is perhaps the most grounded compared to Ameera’s and her character more dimensional compared to Sam’s. For Zawahry’s feature debut, Americanish is decent even if a little feels dated.
This film review is based on a screening from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Photo Courtesy of Visual Communications.