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Abe , a light comedy-drama about a 12-year-old New York foodie whose mother’s family is Israeli-Jewish while his father’s is Palestinian-Muslim, is a palatable cinematic snack but makes a few rookie mistakes in its presentation.
First, while it’s great to see Brazilian singer Seu Jorge in the role of the friendly Chef Chico, culinary mentor to our young protagonist, I was disappointed that at no point until the final credits did he break into song. It seems a waste to ignore such a talent. It’s like that 2006 zombie film, Fido , that put the great stand-up comic Billy Connolly in a role where he wasn’t allowed to speak.
Second, Abe’s multi-ethnic grandparents and uncles are played by a great bunch of supporting performers, including Mark Margolis and Tom Mardirosian. But where’s Andrea Martin? From the great ( My Big Fat Greek Wedding ) to the not-so ( Little Italy ), this ethnically ambiguous actress has been the go-to casting choice for wacky mothers, aunts and grandmothers of almost any nationality or religion. She could have played any of the kids’ elders. Heck, she could have played all of them!
Where’s Andrea Martin?
Grumbling aside, it’s hard to hate a movie that delivers a simple message of why-can’t-we-all-get-along-and-eat-hummus-together. But it’s equally difficult to fall hard for a screenplay (by a quarter of writers including director Fernando Grostein Andrade) that takes so few risks.
The basic plot is that young Brooklyn-born Abe ( Stranger Things ’ Noah Schnapp) is poorly understood by his secular parents, and even less so by their bickering, more religious relatives, each of whom wants Abraham/Ibrahim to follow in their own cultural footsteps. But all he wants to do is cook!
So his parents send him to a cooking camp for kids, which turns out to be far too basic for a budding chef who can already reverse-engineer baking powder. So Abe sneaks away every day after drop-off to visit Chef Chico, who welcomes him into his restaurant, putting him to work as a plongeur and eventually letting him handle sharp knives and open flames. I guess New York child labour laws are pretty lax these days.
There are a few fun moments, as when Chico tells Abe that he is mistaking confusion for fusion in his culinary creations. And nothing says culture war like a mournful rendition of Happy Birthday , sung simultaneously (and off key) in English, Hebrew and Arabic. But the lazy screenplay never really sells the tension in Abe’s life, until a scene late in the movie when he briefly goes missing, and the family falls apart far too quickly, aided perhaps by an over-the-top score.
Abe is one of the first new releases to turn up in recently opened cinemas, as Hollywood blockbusters continue to shuffle and hedge their bets as to when they’ll debut. Alas, it might not be worth a semi-scary trip to a socially spread-out venue. I’m not saying you have to wait for Tenet , just something with a little more kick.
Abe opens July 17 in select cinemas in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, with additional cities to follow.
2 stars out of 5
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020