Abraham “Abe” Solomon-Odeh (Noah Schnapp) is, in his very existence, a provocation.
His family can’t even agree on his name. The Palestinian-Muslim side of the family – his father’s- calls him Ibrahim. The Israeli-Jewish side of the family- his mother’s- calls him Avraham.
And that’s not all they fight about. Should Abe have a Bar Mitzvah or fast for Ramadan? Or should he walk away from religion entirely as his atheist father did?
Family dinners are a war zone – a battlefield where no one emerges the victor. And poor 12-year-old Abe is struck in the crossfire.
“Is family time supposed to be something nice?” Abe wonders. “Or is it just always like this?”
It’s no wonder that Abe finds himself drawn to the world of food – and particularly the food truck of a Brazilian fusion chef named Chico (Seu Jorge, just wonderful). After all, the chef’s motto, emblazoned on a menu blackboard, is “mixing flavors to bring people together.”
Now, wouldn’t that be nice?, Abe wonders.
If you couldn’t tell from the brief description above, “Abe” (both the protagonist and the film that shares his name) is rather unconventional- the film doesn’t talk down to kids but instead expects them to learn and grow by confronting them with such heavy subjects as anti-Semitism, religion and 21st century geopolitics.
Those heavy subjects are given an appropriately light touch, and there are elements of “Abe” that will be comfortingly familiar to young audiences- Instagram and cyberbullying both figure into the plot, and the central mentor/mentee relationship feels a bit like a culinary “Karate Kid.” But you’ve got to give Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Drostein Andrade props for his willingness to engage with difficult subjects and for doing so with as much grace and charm as he does.
A lot of the credit also goes to the performers, particularly young Schnapp of “Stranger Things” and “The Peanuts Movie.” He makes for a winsomely engaging lead, and one that kids will be able to relate to even if his family life is foreign to them. Jorge, of “The Life Aquatic,” is also excellent and finds the right balance between hard-assed supervisor and caring friend.
The entire cast is excellent though – from Abe’s parents (Dagmara Dominczyk and Arian Moayed) to his grandparents (Salem Murphy, Tom Mardirosian and Emmy-nominee Mark Margolis). It helps that everyone is given some great dialogue to chew on, courtesy of Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader, who are themselves Palestinian immigrants. “Abe” is clearly a personal project for these writers, and that affection comes through in every scene and every line of dialogue.
Gui Amabis’ score is, like the food at the film’s center, a fusion- an indelible mix of music from around the world brought together in one glorious melting pot. Cinematographer Blasco Giurato lovingly lenses the scenes in the kitchen with close-ups of food that will make your mouth water.
But it’s the pointed and real dialogue and heavy subject matter that really make “Abe” (unrated, but with PG-rated language and thematic elements) sizzle.
At one point, Abe discusses the importance of mixing flavors- especially those that you wouldn’t think would go together (salty and sweet, sour and bitter etc.). This is good wisdom- not just for chefs, but for filmmakers too. By mixing real-world issues with some coming-of-age sweetness, Andrade has created a thoroughly exceptional dish – unexpected, moving and often delightful.
“Abe” is as light and wispy as a good souffle, but just as delicious, and it manages to be surprisingly nourishing for the soul as well. It’s the sort of recipe that I wish more family filmmakers would follow.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.