Maryam Movie Review
Maryam (aka Mary, Mariam Parris) is a bright, high-schooler, living in an Iranian household that's substantial enough monetarily (her father, played by Shaun Toub, is a doctor) that her mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) doesn't have to work. She goes to school, finally gets to drive the family car, and participates in activities such as the school news club. The flipside of this charmed life is that she is the first generation to grow up in America, and her family still abides by some traditional Iranian rules. She isn't allowed out at night, and her father refuses her phone calls after dark as well, especially from boys.
She's gotten used to most of this strictness by now, but she comes into contact with true culture shock when her cousin Ali (David Ackert) comes to stay with them. Ali's parents are both deceased, and he's working towards a physics degree to take back to Iran. Despite obvious conflict with some of Ali's angst issues surrounding the death of his father, which he blames on his uncle, all attempts are made to make him feel comfortable.
Unaccustomed to such serious, extremist ideas, Mary laughs off certain eccentric responses at first, rolling her eyes when Ali won't shake her hand and cracking jokes about the strange staring at the television because the Shah is in the hospital. But as the hostage crisis in Teheran escalates, Mary's background takes a larger role as she and her family become the victims of local racism.
Set in 1979, Serry intelligently chooses to keep things simple, combining everyday interaction with a minimal amount of stock footage to keep track of what is in the news and how it affects a larger populace. Each scene could play as a mini-film within itself as they each end with a decisive statement, but this also helps the overall build of how the characters are pushed to change their views and needs to the increasingly claustrophobic environment. Unfortunately, some of the important moments get lost in repetition, as each family member endures the same type of negativity.
Though the dialogue often edges on cheesiness, this is redeemed by the performances of the key roles. Thankfully, Mary doesn't try to compete with her peers, even as she straddles fitting in with following familial rules. When the boy she's had a crush on, Jamie (Victor Jory), ends up with the stereotypically cheerleader-esque Jill (Sabine Singh), Mary just backs away. To Jamie's credit, and that of poignant writing, he does attempt to connect with Mary again but is at a loss for words. This lack of emotional ability on the part of an obviously sheltered teen is just one example of what works for Maryam, that living through a difficult time doesn't always provoke heroic, Oscar-leaden speeches.