THE STORY – Beautiful and troubled 20-something Donya, an Afghan translator who used to work with the U.S. government, has trouble sleeping. She lives by herself in Fremont, California, in a building with other Afghan immigrants and often dines alone at a local restaurant watching soap operas. Her routine changes when she’s promoted to writing the fortunes at her job at a fortune cookie factory in the city. As her fortunes are read by strangers throughout the Bay, Donya’s smoldering longing drives her to send a message out to the world, unsure where it will lead.
THE CAST – Anaita Wali Zada, Jeremy Allen White & Gregg Turkington
THE TEAM – Babak Jalali (Director/Writer) & Carolina Cavalli (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 91 Minutes
Anyone who follows independent cinema has almost certainly seen plenty of films that resemble “Fremont.” Small-scale, black-and-white, wistful comedies are practically the backbone of art houses and film festivals. But what makes “Fremont” different and special are the details that help fully realize its world. Namely, the specific experience of the magnetic main character Donya (Anaita Wali Zada), an Afghan immigrant who moved to California after working as a translator for the US government in her home country. It may not be the most incendiary of films, but “Fremont” paints a charming portrait of an individual who revels in making decisions that shake up her otherwise-contained world.
Donya is facing the typical struggles that a twentysomething in America may encounter today. She feels stuck at her job at a fortune cookie factory, her friends are pressuring her to date, and she’s having trouble sleeping. She’s also far from her family, who are all back in her home country of Afghanistan. When she’s unexpectedly given a promotion at her job, she decides to be reckless and begins sending messages through the fortune cookies to unsuspecting dessert eaters.
If nothing else, “Fremont” is funny. Much of its humor is derived from Donya’s droll, deadpan reactions to nearly everything around her. She’s not a character who freely expresses enthusiasm, and yet, thanks to an incredible debut performance from Zada, it never feels tiring or repetitive to follow her low-key exploits. She effortlessly holds the camera’s attention and even looks straight into it at a pivotal point in a way that feels both hypnotic and empowering. She also has phenomenal chemistry with the star of TV’s “The Bear,” Jeremy Allen White. They don’t meet until very late in the movie, but when they do, the film is injected with a bolt of energy that powers up what was previously a low-wattage experience. Their scenes are comprised of moments that make an audience want to reach into the screen and push the characters together, forcing them to skip the niceties and ignore the awkwardness of unspoken attraction.
But until the film allows Zada and White to interact, it mainly consists of pointed moments of inaction, which may be thematically appropriate but are undeniably frustrating. This staid tone does allow Donya’s choices and decisions to feel earth-shattering, even if they’d be fairly underwhelming in most films.
“Fremont” is a sedate but ultimately charming little story about the American Dream and how surprisingly underwhelming it can feel when seemingly achieved. It understands and clarifies that personal satisfaction can be found not from monetary or material gains but only through meaningful interaction with those in our lives.