It is rare in today’s filmmaking world that inspiring films about youth have something profound to say. Most films that claim to speak to today’s kids tend to condescend to their audience and crowd their screenplays with clichés, ofttimes rendering their content superficial and phony.
Fernando Grostein Andrade’s “Abe” is the special film that takes care to get to the heart of its subject. It is an honest portrayal of a twelve-year-old Brooklyn boy who loves cooking and is caught between the traditions of his half-Palestinian half-Israeli family.
Andrade’s film is more than that, even. It is a coming-of-age film that speaks to the diversity of world cultures, the passion for the art of cooking, the pleasure of sharing a good meal and how food itself can bring people together, using the cultural fusion of food to
represent its themes of diversity.
Noah Schnapp (great as Will of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and even better here) stars as Abe, the aforementioned boy living in Brooklyn with his Jewish mother (Dagmara Dominiczyk) and his Arab father (Arian Moayed).
Abe wants to become a chef and runs an Instagram blog about his cooking adventures. Food means a lot to him and he practices often in order to get the proper skills to reach his goals. Abe loves cooking so much that he even bakes his own birthday cake.
Both of his parents encourage his interests and support him, although they wish he had more friends–any friends. The issues Abe has come from his conflict-prone grandparents. He is regularly being pressured to choose a side between Islam and Judaism and their constant dogmatic demands wear on him. So he chooses to spend a lot of time alone, with his cooking. The grandparents cannot even see eye to eye on what to call Abe. One set calls him “Avraham” while the other prefers “Ibrahim.” Abe simply wants to be called Abe.
After getting his parents to enroll him in a cooking class, Abe discovers it to be beneath his talents and sneaks away, only to stumble upon a street fair where he meets fusion cuisine chef Chico (Seu Jorge) who will reluctantly take Abe under his wing, becoming his Mister Miyagi. Abe continues to lie to his parents, making them think he is still attending the cooking class while sneaking off to Chico’s restaurant.
The scenes between Abe and Chico are a delight and the organic way their friendship develops gives the film a sweet and natural tilt.
While the initial plot details appear simple, Andrade and his co-writers Lameece Isaaq, Jacob Koder, and Christopher Vogler have deeper issues to tackle.
This film explores the humanity of interfaith relationships through its examination of Abe’s family and the budding independence of a young man reaching his thirteenth birthday.
Abe’s parents indulge and encourage their son’s culinary aspirations and try their best to make a good home life for him while we see that all is not perfect. His father is an atheist who lets his son choose his own path but still tries to instill some wisdom in him about living a spiritual life.
Abe’s mother embraces her family’s Jewish traditions and includes her son in the rituals that her father (an always-great Mark Margolis) still practices. His mother is more rigid in her observance of her faith and struggles with her son trying to balance the two religions, as Abe prepares for his Bar Mitzvah while promising his father’s Muslim parents that he will fast for Ramadan.
It is after his parents announce that they might be taking a break from one another that Abe decides to cook a multicultural Thanksgiving meal in the hopes of mending both his parents’ relationship and placate the resentment pitting his grandparents against each other.
“Abe” is the first feature film by Fernando Grostein Andrade. This director had directed documentaries up to now. He directs the film unobtrusively and allows everything to come about organically while Blasco Giurato’s (the award-winning DP of “Cinema Paradiso”) cinematography bathes the film in a sunlit hue.
This is a hard world for people of different spiritual backgrounds to accept one another’s beliefs. So many are chained to tradition and doctrine. It is in our common humanity where we must meet and come to understanding and respect of one another’s spiritual paths.
Andrade wants us to know that our differences as human beings should be what connects us as a people, and it is a pleasure to watch this young man discover the importance of bringing his diverse family together.
“Abe” is a refreshing film that does not use cinematic trickery or heavy drama to bring across its message of tolerance and acceptance. It is a film for the whole family that smartly sidesteps the drawbacks of being a family film.