Are You Glad I’m Here is one of those strange films that can take a dark subject matter and turn it into something hopeful. The film is set in Lebanon, in the city of Beirut, and follows the growing friendship of Nadine and Kristen. Nadine is a Lebanese house-wife, with a husband and children. Kristen is an American who has moved to Beirut to teach English. After meeting by chance and meeting often to get to know each other, they both become good friends. Unfortunately, Nadine’s husband is a drunkard, adulterer and abuser – when he takes things too far, Kristen decides that they will both deal with him together. When the unfortunate happens, the two friends become partners in crime as they are forced to do what they can to avoid spending the rest of their lives in a Lebanese prison.
Already, from minute one, this is a great pairing of people. Nadine clearly started married life with nothing but happiness – unfortunately, her husband and certain aspects to her culture’s views on women’s rights have whittled her down to someone whose, maybe not miserable but definitely wanting better and feeling very scared at times. It makes it all the nicer when Kristen comes into her life and gives her someone to talk to and feel supported by. At the same time, Kristen is culturally naïve, not understanding the views of the majority of people and even arguing against their views – some of which are justifiable, some are a little pettier. We know the dangers of this, even if she doesn’t. It makes it nice when Nadine is giving her information on how the world here works and giving her street smarts. There will always be something endearing about a dreamer lifting the spirits of a realist and a realist calming a dreamer down with hard but simple truths.
The actresses for these parts are on top form. It’s not character playing, they come off as human beings. With dialogue so realistically written, both of them feel like someone you could meet if you travelled to the city right now. There’s a scene where they just talk about watching Marvel’s Jessica Jones – and it fits. It helps flesh them out just that little bit more than the scene before it. The same can be said for the scene after it. Director Noor Gharzeddine has an almost Spielbergian approach to developing her characters. She doesn’t just let great writing and talented actors work and speak for themselves, but she uses her sets and cinematography to make every scene dedicated to these characters feel close and personal.
It is a good thing that the characters are as good as they are – because it does take a while for the story to kick off. The conflict in the plot isn’t introduced until half-an-hour into the film, and it was an extra quarter-of-an-hour before it really kicks in. This does not bother me as what we do get before was so very good. Oddly enough, I preferred what came before to what comes after the conflict starts. But, with this film being much shorter than expected, it barely reaching an-hour-and-a-half, the pacing is affected by this. It also has the issue of being a much better character drama than it is a thriller, with moments that are not as tense as they should be. Their well-constructed on the whole, especially one scene that plays at the very beginning and is revisited later on. I just didn’t get much of a feeling for the stakes. I know they were high for the characters, and I completely understood their dilemma. I couldn’t feel it, or at least I wasn’t as invested with it as I should have been.
That won’t stop me from recommending Are You Glad I’m Here. It’s a nice, and strongly hope filled exploration of friendship across cultures. Gharzeddine is that perfect level of un-bias towards both characters and their views. We see how both perceive what’s wrong and what’s right and how they are never openly declared as right or wrong. It’s up to you do decide. That adds extra levels to a nice and short character piece, with some interesting thriller moments. It’s worth your time, all it asks for is for you to listen.
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