East Is East


The pidginized title of Babak Shokrian’s debut feature might suggest an ethnic quirkfest on the order of Bend It Like Beckham, but this slice of Iranian American life circa 1979 is a thoroughly lugubrious affair more interested in preaching the perils of assimilation than evoking multiculti color, quirky or otherwise. Set during the Iran hostage crisis, the movie wants to be a timely exploration of home-front xenophobia. Unfortunately, its story of Houshang (Mansour), a jheri-curled, bell-bottomed émigré who wants to buy his own nightclub, is just another stale tale of the American Dream gone sour.

Mixing disco and media-induced panic, America So Beautiful cribs from Summer of Sam without re-creating any of that film’s sweaty momentum. The seamy SoCal locations look generic while the nightclub interiors are shot with an appallingly cheesy kaleidoscope lens. Houshang’s quest for down payment leads him into shady deals and petty thievery, as well as the bed of a blond, helium-voiced bombshell. This Temptation Island view of American life feels eerily fundamentalist, and the apparently dubbed dialogue compounds the alienation effect.

As much as the film would like to blow the lid off immigrant misery, it deals only in caricatures. The motley crew that helps Houshang raise the money is an assortment of kvetching cab drivers and grocery store owners seemingly spun off from MadTV‘s Depressed Persian Tow-Truck Man. At least the stereotyping goes both ways: One of the many climaxes has diner customers heckling Houshang with a round of “God Bless America,” led, aptly enough, by a character credited as only “Racist Waitress.”

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