What a delightfully light confection “Abe” is, a family dramedy about food, clashing cultures breaking bread together and the celebrated cosmopolis that might be the only place in the world this story could happen — New York.
Where else could a boy (Noah Schnapp), son of a Palestinian-atheist father and a Jewish mother, whose grandparents re-fight “The Six Day War” at every family get-together, learn to cook at the feet of a Brazilian chef, a master of street cuisine?
“Abe” narrates that one side of his family calls him Avraham, or Abraham, the other Ibrahim. He goes by “Abe” just to keep the peace.
But as he turns 12, the quarrels at his birthday dinner start to come to a head. Jewish Mom’s (Dagmara Dominczyk) peace-keeping efforts are failing, the grandfathers (Tom Mardirosian, Mark Margolis) are violating the peace treaty and yes, SOMEbody is going to need a Bar Mitzvah next year. Or celebrate Ramadan instead.
Dad (Arian Moayed) wants everything secular. Mom isn’t commited to that. And Islamic granny (Salem Murphy) insists to the boy “You can TRY both, but you cannot BE both!”
To the boy, an always-online 12-year-old foodie who knows a lot more about cooking than his parents, “fusion” is the natural way of things. Try his “Ramen (noodles) tacos.”
Abe’s food-wanderings take him to a food booth at a weekend street food fair where he seeks out Chico (Seu Jorge, of “City of God,” “The Life Aquatic” and “Marighella”), a darling of the foodie underground.
Abe is a pushy little pissant. And clumsy, not “up to code” in terms of knowing his way around a kitchen, ingredients and disinfectant. He may know the chemistry of cooking, and a lot more than his parents. But Chico is unimpressed.
“Does this look like a summer camp for rich kids?” Abe doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, “mixing up fusion with CONfusion.” But we know that the old master will take him under his wing — AFTER making the kid clean the co-op kitchen where he does his prep.
Abe is supposed to be at a tiny tykes summer cooking camp, but his “Give him space” parents are none the wiser.
The conflicts in “Abe” are cute and funny, but also pointed and real. The grandparents bicker over permissive Jewish parents vs. strict Islamic supervision. The parents, in turn, are sucked into this fight as it’s about them.
And Abe? He wants to learn how to peel and prepare yucca, figure out the right blend of sweet and savory for a fusion taco and whip up the perfect lemonade (with thyme) ice pop.
Like comfort food, it’s not surprises that “Abe” — a Brazilian-American production — is aiming for. We see the conflicts and their resolutions two dinner courses in advance.
There are throw-away moments and lines that work, and a few that sing.
And young Mr. Schnapp, of TV’s “Strangers Things,” is an agreeable tour guide, while Jorge, one of Brazil’s finest dramatic actors, wears this exotic, Afro-Brazilian mentor mantle with a beguiling effortlessness.
Brazilian director Fernando Grostein Andrade, making his North American debut, revels in the foods and the online life of American tweens even as he’s immersing us in a story with a lot of heated conflict built into it.
This moment in time feels as if it could use a little New York state of mind dramedy like “Abe.” It’s not a whole meal, but “Abe” sits easy on the palette and leaves you wanting more.
MPAA Rating: unrated, quite PG
Cast: Noah Schnapp, Seu Jorg, Dagmara Dominczyk, Arian Moayed, Salem Murphy, Tom Mardirosian and Mark Margolis.
Credits: Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade, script by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader. A Blue Fox release.
Running time: 1:25