Mexican actor Diego Luna’s directorial debut reviewed by Declan Tan
Here’s one: a heartfelt directorial debut from Mexican actor Diego Luna, about a young boy who has this mental condition where he thinks he’s his dad, so he comes home from the hospital and orders his family about, checks their homework, meets their boyfriends for approval and such like. Sounds funny? It’s alright.
Based on an invented condition, created by some author somewhere, here we have our little Hamlet, Abel (10 year old, Christopher Ruíz-Esparza), who has refused to talk for a worrying amount of time. Namely since his father up and left the family two years previously. But when Abel gets home he masters and wields his silence for parental effect, patriarchal speech making, or to demonstrate tut-tutting disappointment when he assumes said role. His doting mother accepts the condition and tries to convince herself and others that he is better off like this way, rather than a mute, and lets him get on with it. Of course, that is until we have to have a little tension. The father returns, resulting in a comedy-of-manners, dramatic irony style humour with predictably hilarious consequences ensuing.
Strangely, Abel seems to be a film with only a middle, the wispy ending rushed and the opening perhaps deliberately muddled, perhaps in an attempt to manufacture intrigue. But even though it only has one joke, it actually turns out to be quite a sustainable and amusing one, if you’re in the right mood for it. Directed in a kind of paint by numbers, almost unimaginative way, it prefers to focus on story and explore relationships rather than overwhelm with original artistic vision. That might distract.
Even though it’s actually a bit pointless, doesn’t really say anything interesting about the familial relationship, and drags a little towards the end of its short stay, like that little fellow who thinks he’s his pa, it has its moments assuming the role of a touching and affecting comedy.
What stops it from being elevated to a better-than-average piece of storytelling, is the intrusive music that burps into your unsuspecting ear almost interminably. Luna seems to be afraid of silence now that his mini protagonist has broken his, but that doesn’t seem to be a point he’s making. What it does seem like is that the unfortunate Hollywood influence of trying to make a populist hit has taken hold, where quiet is seen as boring, and silence is seen as unprofessional, leaving us no time to think.
So Luna is not as concerned with the boy’s psychology, which is refreshing, instead he is “focussed on the story to tell instead, more concerned with relationships and how they can play out”. We’ll give him that. And a round of applause for newcomer Christopher Ruíz-Esparza. It would be rude not to.