Amira & Sam's beguiling centerpiece is a seven-minute shot in the Staten Island studio apartment of Sam (Martin Starr), a vet just back from Afghanistan and adrift in the city of his birth. In one long take, we observe Sam and Amira (Dina Shihabi) climb into bed for awkward It Happened One Night–style room-sharing, and then negotiate the space between them, both physical and otherwise. They tell secrets, laugh nervously, flirt with the possibility of flirting but then shy away -- until, suddenly, beautifully, one finds an excuse to plant a light kiss on the other. The scene is so patient, engaging, and potent that it makes forgivable the film's implausibilities: the thread about Sam getting roped into shady hedge fund deals with a cousin; the over-the-top racism of Sam's Staten Island family; the feel-good climax. If nothing else, we believe in these two.
Amira winds up in that bed after Sam is charged by his friend (and her uncle) Bassam (Laith Nakli) with sheltering her for a couple days while the police search for her. Amira, Iraqi by birth, is at risk of being deported after she gets busted hawking pirated DVDs.
Writer-director Sean Mullin gives us some of the usual beats, but he and his performers invest them with rare persuasive power. Starr has grown into a handsome, somewhat sad-eyed young man whose wit and appeal sneak up on you. But it's in Shihabi's face that the movie's drama unfolds: Her stern distaste for Sam lightly loosens, scene by scene, in convincing increments, until at last she's beaming. Watching, it's hard not to join her.