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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An ambitious Lebanese-American youth is forced to take over his family's gas station after his father's death.
May 11, 2020