Growing up is confusing for the average pre-teen boy, but Brooklyn-born Abe (Noah Schnapp, Stranger Things) has more of a task than most. Born out of a cross-cultural marriage, Abe describes his identity as Palestinian Muslim/Israeli Jewish/American Brooklyn/and Gryffindor. Family gatherings most resemble a battlefield, with each side fighting for the right to claim Abe as one of their people. His parents, Rebecca (Dagmara Dominczyk, The Count of Monte Cristo) and Amir (Arian Moayed, Rock the Kasbah) have tried to raise him as religiously neutral, while his Jewish grandfather (Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad) and Muslim grandparents (Tom Mardirosian and Salem Murphy) each want Abe to exclusively worship their way. Any interest Abe shows in either religion registers as a loss to the other family members’ agendas.
Luckily, Abe has an outlet and finds joy in cooking and serving food, detailing his culinary adventures through an active social media account. After a particularly rough birthday dinner with his family, he escapes into the city to a local food truck popup where Brazilian Chef Chico (Seu Jorge, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) sells fusion cuisine to the crowd. Inspired by Chef Chico’s claims that mixing food from different cultures can bring people together, Abe sets out to learn the ways of Chef Chico and cook a meal that might unite his disparate loved ones.
Like the fusion Abe aspires to create, Andrade’s film marries cultures in his choice of creative team. Andrade himself is a child of intersectional identity. Although raised in Brazil, his grandparents were Catholic on one side and Jewish on the other. His mother’s second marriage after the passing of his father added both Finnish and Italian siblings into his life. Andrade also adds the ingredients of Palestinian-American screenplay writers Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader. The authentic details of being a child of mixed heritage shine through clear in their combined work. As Abe grows in his understanding of his family and in his culinary skill, he, along with the audience, has ample opportunity to appreciate the food and cultural/religious traditions presented.
Specifically, the screenplay writers make good use of the time Abe spends in one-on-one conversations with his various family members. On these occasions, without the fear of displeasing someone else, Abe can ask his Muslim grandparents why they don’t drink wine, can ask the same grandma when is the right time to start fasting, can ask his Jewish grandfather about the importance of the bar mitzvah, and ask his Muslim father about eating pork. These conversations could easily sound forced or preachy, but Issaq and Kader’s writing, as well as solid delivery from the actors involved, creates moments that are sincere and natural.
The family dinners between his very opinionated family members couldn’t be more different. Again, the all too true sounding dialogue and genuine performances create tensions that are palpable and truly uncomfortable.
While all actors are serviceable in their roles, special props go to Noah Schnapp, who plays the very relatable Abe. An open-faced boy who seems to bounce wherever he goes, headphones slung casually around his neck, young tweens will find in Abe a character to whom they can relate. Mark Margolis, as the curmudgeonly Jewish grandfather, is a standout and gets a nice amount of screen time. And Seu Jorge, as the Brazilian Chef Chico, plays the mentor that Abe needs and telegraphs serious Mr. Miyagi vibes by training Abe in the ways of washing dishes and sanitizing surfaces before he even thinks about peeling a yucca.
Production designer Claudia Calabi captures the energy of Brooklyn through the cityscapes and shots of Abe commuting back and forth on his daily treks to visit Chef Chico. Whether he’s walking on the sidewalk, traveling via subway, or standing still marveling at urbanity, the diversity of the city is on full display, through a filter that makes it almost look magical.
While the story is somewhat predictable, Abe is a solid family film that will be enjoyed and appreciated by viewers of all ages. While the story it tells uses details that will seem familiar to people who are of Jewish, Muslim, or Brazilian identities, the tale of a boy trying to figure out who he is will resonate to people of all kinds. Kids will relate to Abe and parents will appreciate seeing role models in this film who fail at times, but ultimately love their child and are try to do right by him. And subtly woven throughout, is a much-needed positive view of the immigrant experience.
Available to watch on VOD April 17th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.