The low-key workplace comedy Radio Dreams, directed by British-Iranian filmmaker Babak Jalali, takes a premise that could be exploited for maximum wackiness – either as a mockumentary or as a straight-forward comedy of errors – and turns it into a slow burning, thoughtful musing on the nature of cultural identity in modern America. Radio Dreams isn’t made up of bits and pieces that fit together seamlessly, but its best moments are some of the most engaging and sometimes uncomfortably humane moments that viewers are likely to see this year.

Hamid Royami (Iranian musician and songwriter Mohsen Namjoo), artistic and programming director for PARS-FM, the only Farsi language radio station in San Francisco, has a stressful day ahead of him. The station has drawn a lot of mainstream media attention and a slew of new sponsors thanks to the arrival of two major musical acts in their studio on the same day: Kabul Dreams, Afghanistan’s first ever rock band, and heavy metal legends Metallica. The top brass at the studio has been heavily hyping this potential jamming between two major figureheads in world music, but the promotion of the event finds Hamid’s creative and artistic decisions for the station pushed to the side. Hamid, once a respected writer and poet in Iran, wants more thoughtful programming, while the controlling daughter of the station’s owner (Boshra Dastournezhad) wants PARS’ new sponsors to get the most for their money. While a frustrated and increasingly catty Hamid tries to balance the station’s already slapped together series of program choices, he also has to worry about what happens if Metallica decides to never show up to their tiny studio.

Radio Dreams is a comedy and drama told across a single day in the characters’ lives with a relaxed, often episodic tone, suggesting a story that has a ticking clock going on in the background, but no one’s eager to get to that deadline in a hurry. It’s a story with great immediacy told as leisurely as possible.  With his second feature, director and co-writer Jalali (Frontier Blues) blends mockumentary verite with American mumblecore, and the material lends itself well to both styles. Jalali approaches every moment of his film like a fly on the wall, and while the film is visually interesting, the look of Radio Dreams is secondary to what’s being said about the experiences of Middle Eastern immigrants to the United States.

One of Hamid’s biggest goals outside of the creation of more intellectual and artistically stimulating programming (instead of conducting stilted on-air interviews with charlatan dermatologists and Miss Iran) is to let listeners hear the deeply personal narratives of immigrants to America. Hamid is trying to figure the world out the best way he can, and he doesn’t care if the words are coming from a Russian keyboardist, a Salvadoran poet, or a fellow Iranian. In these stories he finds the merit and comfort that the rest of his job doesn’t provide. That struggle between American capitalism, finding comfort in a new homeland, and the retention of identity and language runs throughout Radio Dreams as Jalali’s most vital narrative thread. Whenever Namjoo and Dastournezhad butt heads over the station’s direction, the film roars to life, and both actors do wonderful work as hard headed opposing personalities keen on sticking to their guns.

While that thread contains a lot to chew on and admire, it’s not the focal point of Radio Dreams, and everything around this core ideological and social conflict struggles to keep up. Everything involving the members of Kabul Dreams (an actual band with the members playing themselves) waiting around the studio and conducting interviews with a television reporter should seem more important than it’s actually made out to be, especially since this is the first time the band members have been to the states (or it’s at least their first trip for the sake of the film’s narrative). A weird subplot involving the station manager’s bizarre obsession with Greco-Roman wrestling comes across as unfunny, surrealist filler as well. As the film goes on, Radio Dreams devolves into what feels like a story comprised only of subplots without a major throughline emerging.

That might be the point, since Jalali’s commitment to restrained comedic and dramatic authenticity is maintained throughout. But if Jalali wants to make a truly impactful film – dramatic or comedic –  about being an immigrant and feeling out of place, Radio Dreams needs to stay on a single topic longer than it ultimately does. By the climax of Radio Dreams, the fate of the station and the personalities running it are somewhat in doubt, but the bittersweet, and admittedly unexpected series of conclusions (which includes a warm-hearted appearance by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich) doesn’t pack the same punch that a more focused and tightly constructed look at immigrant and migrant struggles could have delivered. Radio Dreams ends up being a disappointment that likely won’t stick in viewer’s memories for too long, but it’s a mostly likeable disappointment with some poignant insights when it needs to have them the most.