Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 19, 2019 9:19 pm 
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Mixed cuisine

If you are not too demanding, this Sundance film may provide charming entertainment. But the trouble with it is that while geared ostensibly to youthful audiences, it contains political conflicts too bitter and intense to be pleasant or understandable for them, while the rest of the content is too simplistic for adults. The idea is reconciliation of family differences through cooking.

Noah Schnapp, "Will" in the series "Stranger Things," has sweetness, earnestness and charm in the lead role of one of those budding boy genius chef types who are popping up all over now. Flynn McGarry of the documentary Chef Flynn was about this age, just turned twelve, when he started his at-home subscription supper clubs. Abe, aka Abraham, Avi, Avram, or Ibrahim, isn't quite that ambitious yet. But when his parents try to send him to a Mickey Mouse summer cooking class for kids, he runs off and begs Chico (musician turned actor Seu Jorge), an Afro-Brazilian fusion chef, to mentor him. The apprenticeship segment is the film's simplest and best, when Abe has to wash pots and pans and put out the garbage, then gradually has his talent recognized and is granted an official apron.

The danger is that this will be construed as child labor, or something, or simply that, out of character, Abe is lying to his parents and doing this in secret.

Abe is a fusion dish himself. His father is Palestinian, his mother Israeli, and their Brooklyn household is frequently visited by all four in-laws. And they don't get along whenever politics is mentioned, which it is whenever they sit down together. Abe's effort to do a Jewish-Arab cuisine fusion meal for Thanksgiving, with a roast turkey which is neither, is such a diplomatic nightmare among parents and in-laws he runs away to Chico, and the stress of his disappearance unites the family's two sides. It's all very emotional and cute - and manipulative and fake. The versatile character actor Mark Margolis of "Breaking Bad" stands out as Benjamin, the macho Israeli grandad, who wants only for Abe to have his bar mitzvah and be an observant Jew. The boy's Palestinian-American father Amir (Arian Moayed) is an atheist. One feels for a kid pulled in so many conflicting religio-ethnic directions. But the treatment of this situation isn't realistic or specific enough to take seriously, even though the one big mealtime fight is disturbingly bitter.

I noticed that Josiah Hughes of finds the "online" visuals, meant to be trendy, used to depict on screen Abe's Internet food researches "through a series of zany hashtags, Impact-font memes and Tumblr notifications" is really retro, "the sort of outdated web interfaces that suggest Andrade [the director] "hasn't seen the internet since 2011." I simply saw them as annoying, as it always is when a film throws a mass of barely legible on screen crap at us to "read," when we actually can't.

The point of this stuff is valid though: to show how today's middle class American kid lives a life of Facebook and Tumblr and Tweets, when temporary "grounding" deprivation from his smartphone and laptop is worse than observing Ramadan. Abe admits he has few real friends, only online ones. Unfortunately whether or not ABe's web navigations are up to date, the massive amount of food porn fails to pay off, because the cuisine is too eclectic to be readable, or look appetizing.

Another aspect that eluded me is the music. Joe Bendel of of the movie review blog [url=""]J.B.Spins[/url] knowledgeably lists the rich variety of Brazilian pieces that provide the soundtrack, including cast member Seu Jorge doing several songs, including one by the late Caetano Veloso, plus Tulipa Ruiz doing a number, and the film's "musical supervisor" Jaques Mandelbaum doing cello arrangements of Jobim. In the context I can't agree with Bendel that these "sound fantastic" because they wind up sounding schmaltzy, a part of the film's effort to manipulate our emotions. This, plus the various interesting actors, are indications that there are good materials here, waiting to be edited into a more effective whole.

Abe, 85 mins., debuted January 2019 at Sundance, playing also at Montclair. This is the 38-year-old Brazilian-born director's feature debut. The screenplay was penned by Arab-American theater director Lameece Issaq. It was screened for this review as part of the SFJFF.
SFJFF showtimes:
Saturday July 20, 2019 11:15 am Castro
Sun., July 28 11 am Albany Twin


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