Bringing People Together
Twelve-year-old Abe (Noah Schnapp) is a young and aspiring chef who wants his cooking to bring people together. However, his half-Israeli, half-Palestinian family has never had a meal that didn’t end in a fight. Sao Paulo filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade follows the journey of a New York teenager from a mixed Palestinian-Israeli family searching for his identity by exploring his cultural roots. The filmcelebrates the potential for multicultural cuisine to unite people from distinctly different traditions, even in the face of determined opposition.
In a politically divided family, birthday and holiday celebrations tend to be especially stressful. Abraham Solomon-Odeh (Noah Schnapp), is an only child whose Israeli and Palestinian grandparents can barely hold a conversation without disagreeing. His mom, Rebecca (Dagmara Dominczyk), and dad, Amir (Arian Moayed), aren’t much help at keeping peace in the family, even though they claim to be completely agnostic.
It is no surprise to Abe when his 12th birthday party becomes all-out hostilities among his relatives. Everyone claims they want the best for him, but they show little for his interests, particularly his passion for food and cooking. Abe leaves the party to check out a street fair in his multiethnic neighborhood, he tracks down Brazilian chef Chico’s (Seu Jorge) kitchen which features a fusion of South American, New York and Jamaican flavors.
By bringing Middle East politics into a Brooklyn household, Andrade interweaves conflicting cultural values into the context of the American immigrant experience. Abe bears primary responsibility for assimilating his complex heritage. As he searches for something that could override years of ingrained bias and bring his relatives together without acrimony, he wonders if the flavors and foods of his grandparents’ homeland might hold some clues.
Abe begs Chico for a job. He finally persuades him to reluctantly agree to an unpaid internship. This gets Abe into a professional kitchen, where he’s immediately assigned to dishwashing and taking out the trash and these make his aspirations seem more remote. He convinces Chico that he’s the perfect student of fusion cuisine and this requires Abe to demonstrate some of his kitchen skills to win over his new mentor, and his family.
Schnapp gives a fine performance that is grounded in his struggle to connect with his family. This sometimes involves behavior that may not always seem to align with his personality, we see Abe’s gradual growth as he goes beyond his comfort zone to pursue his ambitions.
Abe prefers to be called “Abe,” but his family calls him Abraham, Avraham, Avi, or Ibrahim, depending on which side is doing the talking. Family gatherings are super awkward because of almost constant arguing and no one seems to ever enjoy Abe’s cooking.
“Abe” is a very sweet little movie with great music. The film stresses the difficulty of growing up in such an uptight atmosphere, where both sides of his heritage have been at war with each other for such a long time. Over dinner with his Jewish maternal grandfather (Mark Margolis) and Uncle Ari (Daniel Oreskes), Abe is permitted to sample the wine. But on the Muslim side alcohol is forbidden, and his grandparents (Salem Murphy and Tom Mardirosian) are not bashful offering their disapproving opinion of such behavior. Food is used as the simple metaphor that if you mix Palestinian and Israeli ingredients and make an original dish, you can change our eating habits and also the hostility between both sides. It’s too bad that things do not work that way.