Monday, January 28, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Abe

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade

I’ve gone by Abe since I was in seventh grade, and as a result some people are surprised to learn that my full name is Abraham. When I reveal that information to strangers, they often ask if I’m Jewish, and, aside from affirming that and that I’m named for my great-grandfather Arnold, there’s not much more to say. My background is relatively straightforward, far less complicated than the title character with a name I like a lot here, whose nickname serves not only as a shorter way to refer to himself but a helpful abbreviation designed to simplify a contradictory heritage.

Abe (Noah Schnapp) grows up in Brooklyn, the son of an Israeli mother (Dagmara Dominczyk) and Palestinian father (Arian Moayed). His grandparents come over for meals and refer to him as Avraham or Ibrahim, pulling him in different directions related to their own upbringings. His parents prefer a more mainstream, religion-free life, but they fail to see Abe’s true passion: cooking. Under the guise of going to a cooking camp for teenagers that he finds hopelessly below his ability level, Abe begins an unofficial internship in a kitchen learning all about what fusion really means from a Brazilian chef named Chico (Seu Jorge).

This concept is a clever one, boiling down a complicated situation in the Middle East to how it affects one boy. Though his grandparents contradict each other and often argue in front of them, they all transmit to him positive elements of their cultures, while his parents attempt to best prepare him for a productive secular life. Abe is eager to try to mix things together, bringing ingredients from all the influences in his life, though he quickly learns that not all combinations go together easily simply because their pairings are unlikely. That’s a larger metaphor for Abe’s life.

Schnapp should be familiar to audiences from his role as Will on “Stranger Things,” and this part allows him to open up and come out of his shell without the fear of otherworldly beings trapping him forever. Jorge is probably the next strongest actor, as those portraying Abe’s family members offer relatively standard and broadly-defined characterizations. This film is fun, mildly appetizing, and ultimately unserious, a decent and light exploration of multiculturalism and what it means to go up in today’s society. It doesn’t try to be anything more than that and does just fine being what it wants to be.


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