A millennial teacher working in Beirut befriends her neighbor, an educated yet oppressed Lebanese housewife, and the two become partners in a murder and cover-up. Those are the essentials to need to know in “Are You Glad I’m Here,” a film that runs 85 minutes but in reality should’ve been cut down by about 30 minutes.
We are introduced to Kirsten (played by Tess Elliot), who is a 20-something just out of college and looking for some experience abroad. She ends up teaching English in Lebanon, and right way, we can see that money is an issue. She’s not familiar with the customs or language, and needs to steal from a local grocery store. She ends up meeting and befriending her neighbor, Nadine (Marwa Khalil), who at first blush appears to be a friendly, thoughtful, if not somewhat mysterious, mother next door. We quickly learn that Nadine is the target of physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her husband Ameen (Madim Deaibes), who is also a misogynist and a philanderer.
Nadine is pushed to the edge by Ameen during an argument one night, and with Kirsten present in the room, kills him while defending herself. Left with few options and not wanting to head to prison for her crimes, Nadine summons her brother and another friend who dispose of the body. The cover-up seems to be a success, and Nadine and Kirsten ride off into the sunset on a meandering road with no destination in mind.
Sorry if I spoil the conclusion, but I mention the ending because that’s how this film feels. The story is bloated and overtold in some areas, while it feels disjointed and non-cohesive in others. The film explores the son’s relationship (Rami – played by Charbel Makhlouf) with his parents; Ameen’s friendship with Kirsten; and Ameen’s relationship with Ameen. With the plot heading in three very distinct directions, Ameen is killed by Nadine, snaking it in a fourth direction without proper exposition on any one singular plotline.
Perhaps my biggest gripe about the film is that it makes use of time-worn stock characters. Kirsten is exactly how Americans are seen abroad – unbending to other cultures, overly opinionated and without any true values. The same can be said for Ameen, who is just an average villain. He’s given no backstory other than he’s an absent father and willing to (creepily) hit on younger women, Kirsten included. I’d expect a more nuanced portrayal of these characters to give the story more depth and background. But Kirsten simply imposes her American values in the same way that Ameen simply dons the villain cap.
The conclusion is a liberation for Nadine, who has finally freed herself from her oppressive life and husband, and can move forward as she wants. But I don’t share the same feeling at the end of the film. Instead of feeling relieved for Nadine, I was left wondering whether there would be a more extensive criminal investigation that will boomerang back to her. While Nadine may be free for the moment, I am not left happy for her, but thinking that she should be more concerned about fleeing the country or seeking asylum in the United States. That unsettled feeling is mostly how I characterize “Are You Glad I’m Here.” To this moment in time, I’m not really sure I was glad I was there to see this film.