This is a film largely overlooked by the general public I think (but not the critics luckily). It's a really terrific film whose only recognition at the Oscars was a Best Actor nomination for the lead Richard Jenkins. Jenkins, an actor who has been in some 70 films, is perhaps best known for his role as the deceased (but reappearing) father on the HBO series Six Feet Under.
Walter is asked to present a paper at an academic conference at New York University which he reluctantly agrees to do. He has an unused apartment in NYC and is alarmed to discover a couple inhabiting it. He is almost attacked and beaten up by Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), an illegal immigrant from Syria, when Walter comes upon Zanaib (Danai Gurira), his wife/partner from Senegal, in the bathroom. The couple have been deceived into paying rent to a man claiming to be the owner of the apartment during Walter's prolonged absence. In a panic, they gather their belongings and leave. Walter persuades them to return and stay until they have found a new place to live.
Tarek's warm and charismatic nature has unleashed something in Walter. On one musical adventure the two men return by subway to meet Zanaib. Tarek is mistakenly thought to be jumping the subway turnstile and is caught by two subway cops who discover that he has no ID and is an illegal immigrant. The aftermath of 9-11 has reared its ugly head and an atmosphere of terror and paranoia makes every Arabic person a suspect. He is sent to a detention centre in Queens.
Walter is further alarmed to find Mouna (Hiam Abbass), Tarek's mother, literally on his doorstep in NYC. She lives in Michigan and has not received a phone call for almost a week. By the fifth day she realizes that something is terribly amiss. She, too, is an illegal immigrant and cannot risk visiting Tarek. But Walter convinces the lovely, elegant Mouna to remain in the apartment.
One day, acting on a wistful desire that Mouna has expressed to see a certain Broadway play, he takes her to see a production of Phantom of the Opera. The gesture is small but intensely romantic.
But his life changes for the better and so does he. What a wonderful film - true, honest and full of passion.