Nima is an Iranian-American teenager celebrating his 17th birthday with a party at home, thrown by his close-knit family. But the traditional celebration irks him -- he'd rather be doing something cooler out and on his own with his friends, who are invited but may or may not come.
His friends do stop by, but they don't stay because they're on their way to another, cooler destination. But when Nima runs into his friendly Mexican neighbor and invites him over, he learns a new appreciation of his heritage -- and just who his real friends are.
Directed by Saumene Mehrdady from a script co-written with Joel Villegas and Kevin Theal, this short family drama immerses viewers intimately in Iranian culture and tradition, but it also captures the universal yearning of a teenager wanting to break out and explore the world on their terms. Teenagers are already often irritated by the seemingly staid traditions of their parents, but Nima’s experience captures the particular complication of straddling two cultures in the generational conflict.
The film opens with the image of blood being washed from the ground, held for a transfixing duration of time. The image invites intrigue, but then the film shifts into its true shape and form: an amiable, warm narrative of coming-of-age realization, told with an easygoing pace and an eye and ear for character, dialogue and relationships. There's a comfortable, lived-in naturalism, capturing Nima in his home environment. It's almost like any comfortable home in suburbia, full of family and celebration. But the details of the traditions -- and the subtle expressions of expectation -- are captured with sensitivity and sometimes ironic humor.
The writing exhibits a sharp strength in its social observation, and how those interactions push and pull within Nima as his family prepares for his birthday party and he waits for his friends to respond to his inquiries. The love and affection of his family are palpable, but Nima experiences their adherence to tradition as stodgy. Actor Keivon Akbari captures both his love and exasperation with his family, epitomizing the second-generation emotional juggling act with subtlety and precision. To Nima, the party is less about him and what he wants, and more an excuse for relatives to get together. In other words, it's lame.
But it's nowhere near as lame as when his friends finally roll by his home; they don't even go inside, but instead invite Nima to join them elsewhere. Nima's disappointment is palpable. But the day redeems itself when he runs into his neighbor Jaime again and invites him to the party. Through Jaime's fresh eyes and perspective, Nima begins to understand his frustrations are shared by others like him, even in different cultures. And he also sees his familial traditions of celebration and hospitality for what they are: warmly welcoming and loving. Bighearted and expansive in spirit and feeling, "Tehrangeles" ends with a toast. But the film isn't just toasting Nima's birthday, but also a newfound richer appreciation for his heritage and the love that surrounds him, no matter what.