Have you ever heard of Yelp?
You know? Yelp connects people with great local businesses and offers up the opportunity to discover new places, review your favorite spots, and truly support local and indie joints.
Well, I'm a member of Yelp. In fact, I'm a Yelp Elite - which is really just a slightly snooty way of saying that I write a lot of reviews and I write them really well. Well, each member's profile page offers a series of questions designed as a sort of "getting to know you" kind of thing. One of these questions is "Who is your current crush?"
Mine? I am unashamed to admit is Americanish's Shenaz Treasury, an absolute delight in an absolutely delightfilm film co-written and directed by Iman K. Zawahry, one of the first hijabi American-Muslim filmmakers in the nation.
Watch out, America. Iman K. Zawahry is talented.
Americanish takes a familiar story and makes it feel fresh. Two sisters, Sam (Aizzah Fatima) and Maryam (Salena Qureshi), and their fish-out-of-water cousin Ameera (Shenaz Treasury) are marriage-aged women in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York navigating the often turbulent waters of romance, culture, career, and family while trying to balance career goals, personal values, and cultural expectations.
Let's just start off with the basics. Americanish is a delight from beginning to end.
Americanish is early in its fest journey and currently screening at Indy's Heartland International Film Festival. The film has already picked up Audience Award wins for Best Narrative Feature at CAAMFest, New York Asian Film Festival, and Asian-American International Film Festival and seems destined to keep winning awards along its festival journey. The film is gifted with a sublime ensemble cast that gels together perfectly from its inspired leading trio to familiar faces like George Wendt (Cheers) and acclaimed character actor David Rasche among others.
While the framework for Americanish is that of your fairly typical rom-com, Zawahry makes it all feel fresh and alive with the script she co-wrote with Aizzah Fatima. This is a Muslim rom-com directed by Zawahry, a hijab-wearing American-Muslim who may very well be the first female hijab-wearing American-Muslim to direct a feature here in the U.S. This gives the film a remarkable sense of authenticity that more than makes up for the familiar rom-com framework.
While I took a like to Shenaz Treasury as Ameera, whose broad smile and friendly spirit was charismatic plus, the truth is this entire leading trio is absolute perfection and their chemistry together truly sparkles. As Maryam, Salena Qureshi likely has the most layers to play here and she does so wonderfully. Qureshi has a gift for relational acting and she beautifully leans into every scene with intelligence and insight. Aizzah Fatima shines as the career-driven Sam, an early in her career PR rep struggling to deal with George Wendt's cartoonishly inspired and over-the-top Republican politican whom she's tasked with promoting. Then, of course, there's Shenaz Treasury. Treasury serves up the kind of performance that had me rushing over to IMDB to see what else she's done. Marriage-minded, okay obsessed, Treasury gives the film much of its genuine heart and humor and leaves you rooting for her to figure it all out. Ajay Naidu (Office Space) and Godfrey (That Damn Michael Che) are absolute gems as they weave themselves in and out of Ameera's life.
Iman K. Zawahry's direction finds the perfect balance between the film's light heart and serious themes while Chloe Weaver's lensing for Americanish gives the film a brightness and makes sure that we focus on these relationships. Music from Russ Howard III and DJ Rekha gives the film an electricity and vibrance that creates perfect rhythms throughout the film's 91-minute running time.
While Americanish has serious things to say, it says them with heart, humor, sass, and more than a little wisdom. Americanish is practically the definition of a feel-good film and most definitely the definition of what it means to be a Heartland film. It's an inspired choice for the 30th Anniversary Heartland International Film Festival and easily one of my favorite narratives from this year's fest.
Americanish gives us an America where dreams come true...ish. It's an America most of us still believe in it's an America where a hijab-wearing American-Muslim female filmmaker can make one of the year's best rom-coms.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic