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Americanish, the 2021 film by Iman K. Zawahry, one of the first hijabi American-Muslim filmmakers in the U.S., is like My Big Fat Greek Wedding meets an episode of Black-ish. Think of it as an old fashioned rom-com—if late ’80s/early ’90s rom-coms can be considered old fashioned—from a Pakistani point of view.
There’s comfort in a well made formula film. And it’s a step in the right direction to see Pakistani women, people typically not given much screen time, starring in a typical rom-com. Unfortunately, Americanish’s driving force—the quest to find a husband— doesn’t feel new or fresh or like a step forward. From this viewer’s perspective, it’s the same narrative found in most rom-coms.
The film centers around three women hovering around the age of 30. Sisters Sam and Maryam are from Jackson Heights, Queens. Sam is dating, but not loving it, and doing her best to climb the corporate ladder at her communications job. Maryam is finishing her undergrad in pre-med and is the more traditional of the two. Cousin Ameera arrives from Pakistan looking for an “American-Pakistani doctor” to marry.
All of the rom-com tropes are delivered. Each woman has a meet-cute with an unexpected suitor. Each woman zigs when tradition tells them they should zag. Each woman comes to crossroad about family expectations. If you’re looking for a rom-com, you’ll probably like Americanish.
Of the three stories, Maryam’s is the most interesting. The pre-med overachiever, well-played by Salena Qureshi, is our middle ground and the film’s moral center. She’s striving in school and in her internship, crushing on a fellow Pakistani pre-med student yet yearning for a traditional marriage. In one scene the two sisters argue about living at home and Maryam blurts out: “It’s better than being 30, damaged, and single.” It’s an understandably real way someone would lash out in a fight. But it’s an especially odd thing to hear in D.C., where we have the lowest birth rate in the country and the highest rate of births for women between 35-39 years.
Eventually, Maryam comes to terms with the issues she’s dealing with—pulled between wanting both a traditional marriage and a fulfilling career—and apologizes to Sam. Without spoiling anything, one of the women gets married, one follows her dream, and another finds love in an unexpected way. Each story is resolved in a minimal amount of scenes and the film ends when it should, at 90 minutes. Maybe the characters would work better in a sitcom, allowing more time for each to evolve and for stories to play out in a more natural way. Maybe that’s what the name is going for: following in the same vein as the successful long running ABC sitcom Blackish.
Americanish screens as part of the DC Independent Film Forum on March 6 at 7 p.m. at Landmark E Street Cinema. DCIFF runs through March 6. dciff-indie.org. $35–$85. Individual tickets also available.