There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Although AmericanEast mainly takes place in a restaurant and Tony Shalhoub plays one of the main characters, it’s not Big Night. AmericanEast is not a restaurant movie, it’s a message movie, and the message is this: It ain’t easy being an Arab-American in post-9/11 Los Angeles, especially with the terror alert system tilting toward red. “Red, green, fuscia. They cook this stuff up. They just want people to be scared shitless of people like us,” says Murad (Anthony Azizi), incessantly the angriest among the characters who come in and out of Habibi’s Café. Others in the film are more measured, including the restaurant’s owner, Mustafa (Sayed Badreya), who struggles to believe in the opportunities of America while getting hauled in for questioning by the FBI. Shalhoub plays a businessman—a Jewish businessman, which is key—who wants to help Mustafa open a better restaurant, one where he hopes elements like Murad will not be so welcome to spew anti-Semitic tirades around a shisha. The film follows these threads, plus two more featuring Mustafa’s sister (Sarah Shahi, in a stunning turn) and actor/cab driver Omar (Kais Nashif, who played the martyr in Paradise Now). The tension with Omar, who can’t land roles that aren’t terrorists, builds to a denouement that is, like the movie itself, not exactly subtle. But who needs subtle when you’ve got a message—and a cast talented enough to get it across?