In the 1950s, publisher Peter (Tony Goldwyn), his wife Margit (Nastassja Kinski), and their two small daughters are set to flee the repressive and authoritarian Budapest. But at the last moment, they are compelled by danger to leave infant Suzanne behind with Margit's mother Helen (Agi Banfalvy). When this wealthy woman is put in prison, the child is given to Teri (Zsuzsa Czinkoczi) and Jeno (Balazs Galko), a couple in rural Hungary.
Following the death of Stalin, Helen is released from prison. She takes Suzanne (Kelly Endresz Banlaki), now six years old, for a visit and puts her on a plane to Los Angeles where Peter and Margit have settled down in suburbia. During this protracted separation from her daughter, Margit has ignored her other daughter and written to everyone under the sun including the Red Cross to bring Suzanne to America.
Over the years, this Hungarian girl misses the two people who raised her. Suzanne (Scarlett Johannsson) at 16 is in full-scale rebellion against her strict mother who keeps close watch over her. When the warfare between the two escalates, her father makes good a promise he made years ago that, when she was ready, Suzanne could return to Hungary for a visit.
Writer and director Éva Gárdos has based this drama on her own experiences. Suzanne's quest to revisit her past and come to terms with Margit is at the heart of this cross-cultural story. In Hungary she expresses her gratitude to the couple who raised her and learns about the terrible burden her birth mother has secretly carried over the years. Suzanne's grandmother helps fill in the spaces regarding their family life in Hungary. An American Rhapsody reveals how important it is for all of us to make peace with the past before we launch into any exuberant plans for the future.