Abe Review: Schnapp leads a strong and compelling story about food, family, and culture
Netflix’s Stranger Things gave us a slew of young talent that have been killing it since their start on the series. At this point, it’s hard not to see the like of Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobbie Brown making appearances in big-name franchises like Ghostbusters and Godzilla. However, we haven’t really seen the rest of the crew in much outside of the show and that’s immediately what drew me into seeing Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers on Stranger Things, in the sophomore effort of writer/director Fernando Grostein Andrade – Abe.
The film follows a twelve-year-old, Brooklyn-based, aspiring chef named Abe (Schnapp) who has an intense passion for food and his family. However, with his mom’s (Dagmara Dominczyk) side of the family being Israeli and his dad’s (Arian Moayed) side being Palestinian, Abe is constantly stuck between the two sides fighting over their beliefs and background and trying to please them both. Walking through pop-up eatery one day, Abe meets a Brazilian chef named Chico (Seu Jorge) who introduces him to the idea of infusing different cultural foods together to create unique food. Thinking that this idea of fusion food could be a way to unite these differing sides of his family, Abe begins to learn from Chico in order to perfect his craft and attempts to mend his family as its slowly being torn apart.
Now, right from the first couple of scenes, it’s immediately obvious that Andrade is total foodie with how he not only shows food in a way that will make any viewer’s mouth water, but also uses it to create an engaging style. There’re plenty of great flashes of food, people cooking, and even Abe looking up recipes that will constantly keep viewers engaged and show how intertwined food is into the story. There’s actually a solid educational aspect to the film with Abe learning from Chico about fusions and different flavors that viewers can take away. Not to mention, Chico has a Mr. Miyagi vibe to him that viewers will love and it’s nice to see the film use his and Abe’s dynamic in small doses that don’t overpower the greater story being told. The use of food in creating transitions, strong punctations to what Abe is learning like when he is combining different flavors, and a delightful end-credits sequence gives the film this fresh, colorful, and vibrant spirit that will please and viewers’ palette.
Even more appealing is Schnapp’s excellent lead performance as he evokes a wide range of emotions that viewers will gravitate towards. Schnapp immediately adds a lot of charm to Abe by making his passion and interesting in learning about food clear and he has this energy to him that’s very genuine. The way that blogging and social media play a part in Abe sharing his love of food is also really awesome and it’s a very unique and engaging way to see his passion for food and Schnapp has this youthful attitude about it that’s very likable and easy to connect to. He also brings out the internal conflict of Abe dealing with his feuding family really well and there’s a great relatability to how he showcases Abe trying to connect these two opposing sides and even failing to do so. It’s a very well-rounded performance that I think everyone can connect to on some level and even while the film puts a lot on Schnapps when it doesn’t need to by having his inner thoughts be expressed through voiceovers and telling a lot of the story, he never buckles under the pressure and it’s a very impressive performance. Also, even while I love the blogging aspect, the parts of the voiceover where Abe would literally speak out what he’s typing, hashtags and all, are really unnecessary and kind of annoying.
The film isn’t completely fixated on food though, but rather about differing beliefs and slow destruction of a family. Throughout the film, you can feel this tension and conflict when the family is all together without them having to say a word and once words are exchange, there’s a wide range of perspectives and emotions that Abe constantly finds himself in the middle of. From Abe debating on whether or not he’ll have a bar mitzvah to him trying to please his Palestinian side by fasting, viewers can feel the tug of war situation that Abe is in and his story is a very relatable and universal showing of identity crisis. Hell, people even call Abe a bunch of different names, so it’s no wonder that this confusion and frustration is so clear. Even the added perspective of Abe’s father being atheist and wanting Abe to do nothing with this religious battle in their family brings a lot of complexity to the conflicts that Abe is dealing with and creates a lot of emotions for viewers in how they perceive everything and everyone.
Even with all of the hurtful words and selfish influences that eventually spew out, it’s hard to fault anyone here for there beliefs and no one ever comes off as unlikable. There’s always this underlying thought between everyone trying to push Abe to think like they do that they only do it because they care – it’s just that they might have lost sight of it. This is perfectly displayed by a dinner gone wrong that happens towards the end of the film as everyone realizes their faults in how they’ve treated and influenced Abe and the way the film aims for a more realistic portrayal of family conflict makes the resolution really strong. The film isn’t afraid to let Abe fail and learn something from his actions or to let the family self-reflect and fix themselves without Abe having to be in the room. It’s not afraid to say that some things just don’t fuse together and focus on more personal growth with Abe that is much more effective and relatable for a lot of viewers. Even while the film might throw a lot of its different cultural perspectives at once to viewers, nothing ever gets too lost in the shuffle and many will come away with a unique perspective on life and culture.
Abe is not only an excellent showing of Schnapp’s wide-ranged ability outside of Stranger Things, but a strong film for Andrade with how he crafts together a compelling narrative about food, family, and culture. It’s a film with all the right ingredients and execution to give viewers a fully satisfying meal that will leave them wanting more.