“Radio Dreams,” about a high-minded Iranian writer who tries to gather up Metallica and a Kabul rock band for an on-air performance in San Francisco, has a wide emotional bandwidth: It is often droll, sometimes poetic, occasionally absurd and ultimately a mix of the happy and sad.
Director Babak Jalali sketches out a series of wry misadventures at a radio station that quietly and powerfully add up to a meditation on the joys and pitfalls of assimilating into a new culture. The drab surroundings of the station may be confining — with a few notable exceptions, we barely realize we’re in San Francisco — but the quirky characters breathe life into this world.
Chief among them is Hamid (Mohsen Namjoo, marvelous), the idealistic programmer who wants the Farsi-language radio station to be more like a multicultural NPR, not “WKRP in Tehran.” With his bushy mass of silver hair and deadpan expressions, Hamid is amusing as he endures ridiculous commercials and jingles that undercut his artistic aspirations. But he is also emotionally moving, as he ponders deep questions about why he came to America in the first place.
Somehow, the station has purportedly set up a performance between Metallica and Kabul Dreams (a real-life Afghan band). Near the end, Lars Ulrich of Metallica finally does show up, and what he does fits right into the offbeat milieu of the film.
On occasion, Jalali is a victim of his own success: He dreams up some delicious subplots, but some of them don’t play out sufficiently, whether it involves the wrestling obsessions of the station manager, the ambitions of the manager’s assassin-like daughter (Boshra Dastournezhad, excellent), or even the Afghan rockers themselves. We want additional time with these characters, and that’s a credit to this film: Like Hamid, we yearn for even more.
David Lewis is a Bay Area freelance writer.
Comedy, drama. Starring Mohsen Namjoo, Lars Ulrich, Boshra Dastournezhad. Directed by Babak Jalali. In English and in Farsi, Dari and Assyrian with English subtitles. (Not rated. 97 minutes.)