April 17, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Abe” has a diverse cast of middle-class characters representing white Americans; immigrants from Palestine and Israel; an Afro-Brazilian; and various other ethnicities in minor roles.
Culture Clash: The movie’s title character is a 12-year-old aspiring chef who’s caught between two cultures: Israeli Jewish on his mother’s side and Palestinian Muslim on his father’s side.
Culture Audience: “Abe” will appeal primarily to viewers who like heartfelt, realistic family dramas or foodie movies.
“Abe” is a delightfully charming drama that tells the story of a 12-year-old New Yorker named Abe Solomon Odeh, who has dreams of becoming a chef and is torn between between the two worlds of his American parents’ interfaith marriage. His mother, Rebecca (played by Dagmara Dominczyk), is Jewish and of Israeli descent. His father, Amir (played by Arian Moayed), was raised Muslim and is of Palestinian decent. Abe’s grandparents who live nearby add to the religious tension because they’re more adamant than Abe’s parents that Abe choose one religion to practice, and they try to convince Abe that their respective religion is the best for him.
On the Muslim side are Amir’s parents Aida (played by Salem Murphy) and Salim (played by Tom Mardirosian), while on the Jewish side are Rebecca’s recently widowed father Benjamin (played by Mark Margolis) and Rebecca’s brother Ari (played by Daniel Oreskes). When they get together for meals at Rebecca and Amir’s home in Brooklyn, the conversation usually ends up in arguments over religion and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Abe says in the movie that the two sides of his family rarely agree on anything. For example, with falafel: “One of my grandmas makes it with chickpeas, and the other with fava beans.” As Abe says in the beginning of the film, the Muslim side of his family wants to call him Avarham, while the Jewish side wants to call him Ibrahim. Abe just wants to be known as Abe.
As for Abe’s passions, he says: “I enjoy food. I can’t resist it. The only thing I like better than food? Cooking.”
Abe is a loner whose social life mostly exists online with “friends” he’s never met in person, although some of the people who comment on his social-media posts are people he knows from school. He spends a lot of time posting his thoughts and fantasy meals on Instagram. As a budding foodie, he’s constantly looking for new recipes.
One day, while surfing the Internet, Abe stumbles across some articles about an Afro-Brazilian street chef name Chico Catuaba (played by Seu Jorge), who’s gotten media attention for his Afro-Brazilian fusion of falafel. Chico happens to work at a street market food stall in Brooklyn, where Abe tracks him down and meets him. Chico gives Abe a free acarajé as a parting gift.
Meanwhile, Abe’s parents have enrolled him in a kids’ summer day camp for cooking. But when Abe arrives, he finds out that it really is a kiddie program, where the emphasis is on pretty colors instead of ingredients. As soon as Abe hears that the cooking camp won’t allow the students to use knives, he bolts and makes his way to the other place where Chico works: a co-op kitchen, where Chico is the head chef.
Abe has become a fan of Chico, but Chico and some of his co-workers are very reluctant to let Abe hang around. Abe brings Chico a ramen taco as a gift, which Chico tastes and immediately says that the taco is “terrible.” After much pleading and persistence from Abe, Chico relents and says Abe can become by the kitchen every day to help out for a few hours a day. However, instead of letting Abe help cook right away, Chico tests Abe’s commitment by having him do menial tasks, such as cleaning dishes and taking out garbage.
Of course, child labor laws in the U.S. make it illegal to have a 12-year-old kid working these kinds of hours and with no pay. However, where Chico works seems to be the kind of co-op kitchen where the laws aren’t necessarily followed and it’s not a big concern if the employees are legally authorized to work there or not.
It should come as no surprise that Chico turns from gruff supervisor to caring mentor and eventually gives Abe a chance to cook with Chico and the rest of the kitchen crew. But how much longer can Abe keep it a secret that he’s skipping cooking camp and heading off to a kitchen to work with adults?
Meanwhile, there’s mounting tension at home over religion, since Abe has reached the age when he has to decide if he wants a bar mitzvah. The dilemma is compounded because Abe’s father Amir is an atheist, while Abe’s mother Rebecca is a religious Jew. Therefore, Abe is confused over who he should please: his atheist father, his Muslim relatives or his Jewish relatives. A few things happen (which won’t be revealed here) that change the family dynamic.
Working with Chico and his fusion style of cooking inspires Abe to make a Jewish-Muslim Thanksgiving fusion meal. The menu includes hummus and challah bruschetta; turkey with matzo pits and olive stuffing; falafel bits in tahini dill; and fattoush salad with garlic matzo. What happens at the meal causes the family to confront deep-seated issues.
As the central character Abe, Schnapp gives a wonderfully nuanced performance that is realistic at portraying his adolescent angst without being melodramatic. Dominiczyk and Moyaed turn in solid performances as Abe’s bickering but loving parents. Seu Jorge is also very good as Chico, Abe’s unexpected mentor. And as the wisecracking Ari, Daniel Oreskes brings comic relief to the film and some of the movie’s most memorable lines. (When he looks at Abe’s Thanksgiving menu, Ari says “Hummus and challa? That sounds like a porno.”)
“Abe” is the first narrative feature film from Brazilian director Fernando Grostein Andrade, who previously directed the documentaries “Wandering Heart” and “Quebrando o Tabu.”Grostein Andrade knows from personal experience what it’s like to come from a family of two very different religions, since he has European Jewish grandparents and he grew up Catholic. It’s probably why the sensitive issue of a child growing up in an interfaith household is handled with authenticity and respect.
And as for the delicious food scenes in the movie, they should cause some instant cravings. There’s nothing fancy or complicated about “Abe” (written by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader), but the story is unique enough for it to stand out from most other independent films about families. Anchored by an appealing performance by Schnapp, “Abe” is an emotionally genuine movie that’s worth seeking out if you like stories about people chasing their dreams despite dealing with a lot of personal turmoil.
Blue Fox Entertainment released “Abe” on digital and VOD on April 17, 2020.