Unfortunately, being an Arab in the United States after the attack on the World Trade Center, and as scenes from the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom are everywhere on TV, isn't much better. When the U.S. Customs agent at the airport asks, "Occupation?" the bright, bubbly Muna answers, "Yes," thinking he means that her homeland, Palestine, is an occupied state. The Homeland Security officer proceeds to search through Muna and Fadi's belongings; they are detained for hours.
Settling in with her sister (Hiam Abbass), her sister's doctor husband (Yussel Abu-Warda), and their daughters, Muna struggles to find work. With two degrees and years of experience in banking, she believed she would have little trouble finding a job.
Eventually, she is hired - at a White Castle, selling burgers and fries.
Fadi, accepted into the junior class at the area high school, encounters prejudice and hostility. Students, some with siblings in the military in Iraq, harass him. The debates in his social-studies class, led by a well-meaning but clueless teacher, don't make things better.
Filmmaker Dabis based Amreeka on her own family's experiences in the rural Midwest during the first Gulf War. Although the drama heads on a predictable course, Faour brings intelligence and humor to her performance and Muallem, as the smart adolescent turned surly and scared, is likewise sharp.
In the end, the resilient spirit of its central character makes Amreeka less a grim tale of disillusionment and estrangement than an immigrant story where optimism and hope shine through.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.