ABE: Healing division with food, fusion and ... stranger things
* * * (out of four)
I sit down to write this review on the eve of the most divisive election I can recall.
So it’s fitting that “Abe” -- a 2019 indie now readily available for streaming -- concerns itself with a group of people who should be able to get along, but can’t.
These two families surrounding the titular 12-year-old, however, aren’t squabbling over election politics. No: The mess stems rather from his parents’ mixed marriage, by virtue of which the energetic young New Yorker describes himself as “half Palestinian-Muslim and half Israeli-Jewish; and then American Brooklyn. Oh, and Gryffindor.”
More to the point, it seems every time the families meet -- even on the poor lad’s birthday -- there’s non-stop squabbling and shouting, with Abe as a sort of religious football tossed between such varying cultural demands as bar mitzvah and fasting for Ramadan. It’s as though his grandparents have imported their long-standing Middle Eastern conflicts right into Abe’s own kitchen.
And that is indeed at least partly his domain -- for the young man’s principal hobby is cooking, which serves an obvious but effective metaphor. Abe, you see, wants to explore culinary “fusion,” bringing together different traditions to create such cross-cultural items as ramen tacos, yucca latkes and chocolate matzoh.
Challenged by such dedication, Abe’s parents enroll him in a cooking school, which turns out to be way below his skill level. So after getting dropped off each day, the budding chef sneaks away to a nearby restaurant, where he hopes to learn real skills in their kitchen.
There, he goes from washing dishes, to supervising lemons, to making coffee, to chopping veggies, to home-made popsicles, to at last preparing the staff meal (corn tortilla, with Middle Eastern marinade) -- and then on to … getting in big trouble with his parents!
And finally, back to popsicles.
The simple storyline is carried by sharp, tight editing from a trio of cutters; by fine photography featuring some lovely New York cityscapes; by a protean score ranging from jazz to folk to classical; and mostly, by a top-shelf cast.
Noah Schnapp -- of TV’s popular “Stranger Things” -- brings soulful hope, kindness and good cheer to the likable protagonist; and he is beautifully supported by Seu Jorge as a Brazilian chef who takes Abe under his wings. All the actors playing family members -- Mom, Dad, three grandparents and an uncle -- are likewise excellent, bringing conviction to lines that can border on the corny and the trite.
Indeed, there is some clunky dialog in the final scenes; but by then we are so involved in Abe’s journey, and so concerned to see whether he can heal his histrionic clan, that the story simply sails right ahead to its upbeat but not overly tidy finale.
So: Can such bitterly divided people ever learn to get along better? I’ll give you a hint: Though this is one tasty movie, it isn’t exactly food that will do it.
directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade
Run time: 86 min.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language