Abe (2020)

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Noah Schnapp, Seu Jorge, Dagmara Dominczyk, Arian Moayed, Mark Margolis, Salem Murphy, Tom Mardirosian, Daniel Oreskes, Alexander Hodge
Written by: Lameece Issaq, Jacob Kader, based on a story by Fernando Grostein Andrade, Lameece Issaq, Jacob Kader, Christopher Vogler
Directed by: Fernando Grostein Andrade
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 85
Date: 04/17/2020

Culture Hash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I hate the phrase “food porn,” because I love cooking movies and I feel like it’s a demeaning term. There’s more to these movies than just looking at pretty food; when they’re good, these movies are about passion and artistry, a true love of not only the taste of food, but the craft of food, and everything that goes with it. Abe is a pretty good food movie, not without its problems, but the food part of it comes through beautifully, and it’s overall quite satisfying.

Abe (Noah Schnapp, best known as Will Byers in Stranger Things) is from a messed-up family. His father is Muslim, but atheist, and his mother is Jewish, but religious. All of Abe’s grandparents come over every night, and every night is an argument about which religion is better, and what, exactly Abe is, and what he should be. (Even his name is pronounced differently by the different relatives.)

Abe loves to cook, but he also wants to please his family. He even purposely sabotages his own birthday cake in order to placate his father (over a disagreement about baking powder vs. baking soda). Above all, he loves wandering around Brooklyn, looking for new flavors. He finds a food cart, run by Brazilian chef Chico (Seu Jorge), that features a unique fusion of international tastes.

When his parents send him to a children’s cooking-themed summer camp — and the skill level is embarrassingly below his own (the teacher talks about the virtues of mixing food coloring) — he ditches, and heads to Chico’s restaurant. Chico is amused by the lad and allows him to stay on, at first washing dishes and taking out the trash. Eventually some small lessons begin, such as the proper way to peel a yucca. Before long, Abe is inspired to prepare a fusion Thanksgiving dinner for his family, a combination of Jewish and Muslim fare.

I won’t say what happens from there, but I do wish to ask: if this family does nothing but argue with one another, why are they invited to dinner night after night? Abe is twelve, and so presumably his parents have been married for longer than that. At some point during all that time, wouldn’t somebody have just said, “enough! We’re not inviting these people over any longer!” Wouldn’t someone have become fed up long before now? It’s an aggravating flaw that, rather than generating tension, brings the movie down.

But Schnapp is amazingly good at this kind of role. He spent the entire first season of Stranger Things being stuck in the Upside Down while the others got to have adventures, but his sense of terror and despair came through; he’s an actor that wears his tender emotions right on his sleeve. When he’s sad, he’s truly broken, but when he’s happy, he exudes sheer joy. So his food scenes are moments of true delight, not only in his colorful creations, but also in his exaltation in the act of creating. We’re with him for every second.

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