We begin in the San Francisco fortune cookie factory where Donya, the 20-something refugee who is as self-possessed as a CEO, works. She seems closed down emotionally, but also companionable enough with a tender-hearted coworker who lives with her mother and is intent on finding romance. Donya can’t sleep, and manages to find her way to a pro-bono therapist, played with inspired comedic timing by Gregg Turkington, who haplessly and movingly tries to help her. But Donya, who is played by a real-life 23-year-old Afghan refugee—the astonishingly poised Anaita Wali Zada, in her first acting role—is possibly beyond help. We learn that she worked as a translator for US forces in Afghanistan and had to flee for her life, leaving her family and her home and everything that gave her an identity. And now she’s all alone in a tiny apartment, viewed with suspicion by fellow refugees (men, mostly), and as haunted-seeming as a person can be.
And yet this movie is buoyed up and up as we spend patient time with Donya, who eats her meals at a local Afghan restaurant, where the waiter watches soap operas with her, and at the cookie factory, where Donya gets a promotion and begins writing the fortunes herself. Nowhere is Fremont more alive than in the therapist’s office, where Turkington expresses his love of Jack London, his own fascination with fortune cookies, and finds himself, in his effort to draw Donya out, emotionally unmoored.