Sundance Review: 'Abe' Offers Too Many Ingredients to Taste Good Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade
Starring Noah Schnapp, Dagmara Dominczyk, Mark Margolis, Arian Moayed
Published Jan 26, 2019Good intentions do not a good film make, as is painstakingly clear with the jumbled pastiche of Abe. In its attempts to bring disparate groups together, the film certainly means well, but the final result is a project that strives to be for everyone and isn't really for anyone.
The film's titular character is played by Noah Schnapp (Will from Stranger Things, perhaps not quite ready to carry a movie on his own). Split between his father's Palestinian background and his mother's Israeli roots, he's constantly barraged by quarrels at the dinner table. Some family members call him Ibrahim, while others call him Avrim. That's why he's settled on Abe.
While his parents (Dagmara Dominczyk and Arian Moayed, both recently of Succession) encourage Abe to embrace a post-religious lifestyle, Abe's desire to embrace both practices causes even more strife, hurdling him towards an identity crisis. He channels this confusion into a desire to cook, with his love of food eventually leading him to force a mentorship from street chef Chico (musician-turned-actor Seu Jorge).
On paper, you can see why this was made — there are timely references to the Middle East, plenty of opportunities for mouth-watering food porn and, well, there's a kid from Stranger Things. Unfortunately, director and co-writer Fernando Grostein Andrade does not make the most of his opportunities.
There are myriad problems from the get-go, not least of which is Abe's online food research, which is characterized through a series of zany hashtags, Impact-font memes and Tumblr notifications. It's the sort of outdated web interfaces that suggest Andrade hasn't seen the internet since 2011.
Then there's the question of who the film is for. Its saccharine colours and desperate desire to discuss global issues through food metaphors suggest the kind of film that a social studies teacher would play for their students, but there are also occasional f-bombs and sex jokes. In other words, it's both too adult for children and too childish for adults.
It also feels like a movie that's trying to be Jon Favreau's breezy food truck flick Chef, but unlike the latter, it also lacks the mouth-watering food porn to get you through the other side. As a result, Abe is proof that too many flavours are not always a good thing.