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Maryam (Ramin Serry) 2002


    At first recalling Damien O’Donnell’s quirky ethnic comedy East is East, then sliding into something a bit more serious and less satisfying, Ramin Serry’s debut feature Maryam, despite some solid intentions, ultimately doesn’t gel into the powerful examination of the Iranian-American experience that it wants so badly to be. That’s doubly disappointing then, because the opening sequences of the film show such promise. The film’s refreshing presentation of race relationships is centered on Mary, (Mariam Parris) a relatively average and attractive Iranian-American girl that never really considered her heritage. The arrival of Ali, her cousin from Iran, sets forth a chain of events, forcing a reexamination of her background and the world around her.

     Set in New Jersey in 1979, the film works best when it is at its most specific. The initial observations of the small world that Mary inhabits feel deeply felt and true (if sometimes too archly comic). The obsessions of the teenage protagonist aren’t blown out of proportion in order to lend a sense of importance to the film. She seems reasonably popular, and has attracted the attention of a boy that she admires, and her biggest concern seems to be, like that of most teenage girls, the overbearing rules imposed by her father. This all changes, however, when American hostages are taken in Iran, prompting a wave of discrimination against her family. As the material veers into the preachy, the film’s subtler moments generally work better that its bigger ones. The minor incidents of prejudice on display, such as the deteriorating relationship between her father and a hardware store owner, pack more impact because they seem to attack an individual instead of a faceless group.


    The attempt to turn this personal story into a more exciting thriller falls flat, however. The arrival of the Shah in nearby New York City sets off a series of events that feels forced. As tensions within the Mary’s household rise, a series of revelations takes the focus from the part of the film that worked best. Mary’s relationship with Ali deepens as the movie goes on, but her relationship with her father is not resolved with a similar delicacy. Director Serry shows promise here, since he manages to consistently evoke solid performances, and often resists melodramatic overstatement.  Hopefully, his next film will live up to that promise. As such, I can't imagine Maryam appealing to a massive audience beyond the underserved niche that it focuses on.



Jeremy Heilman