"Only Human" is a winner, but to use a baseball analogy it wins with "small ball."

James Plath's picture

If you combined "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" with "Meet the Parents" and "Arrested Development," then asked all your actors to speak Spanish, you'd come up with a film that's kind of like "Only Human."

Written and directed by Teresa De Pelegri and Dominic Harari, this culture-clash, dysfunctional family comedy has a smart script, energetic performances, and more tongue in cheek than a cow eating steroids.

The action only takes place over a single 24-hour period, but this comedy feels like a big butt planted in a small chair. It's expansive. Oscar-nominated Norma Aleandro ("Gaby") stars as the mother of a Jewish family whose daughter returns with the love of her life, whom she's described to her family as being Israeli. But when Leni (Marian Aguilera) brings Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) to dinner to meet the parents, things aren't as they seem on either end. The siblings are rivaling, Dad is out late as usual, "having an affair," the live-at-home daughter says-and she should know. The film opens with a shot of Tania (Maria Botto) shaving her armpits and checking out her breasts in the mirror. She's a sex-crazed single mom who brags to Sis about a threesome she recently had.

On the flipside, brother David (Fernando Ramallo) has suddenly found religion, wearing a yamulka around the house and deciding he can't touch his sister because she might be menstruating. Then there's precocious little Paula (Alfa Molinero), who apes mom's behavior by insisting she's pregnant, though a virgin. What's a virgin? "Ask your uncle," Sis quips, then tosses in one of many digs about the boy's masturbatory habits. Grandpa Dudu, meanwhile, can't see and wears a hearing aid, but that doesn't stop him from going into his closet and pulling out the rifle he used in the 1948 war for Israeli independence. Oh, and Mom takes anti-depressants. "What do you expect?" she tells Leni. "Your granddad depresses me, your siblings depress me, your father depresses me . . . ."

What a family to walk into! Forget the circle of trust. There is none in this family, and none brought into the household. You see, Leni wanted her family to get to know Rafi before dropping a bombshell of her own: he's really Palestinian.

Mom: "What if you have a child?"
Leni: "He'll bring peace."
Mom: "He'll be a mental case."

Join the club. Brother David has a baby duck that he rescued and keeps in the bathtub, toilet, bidet, or sink-whichever isn't in use. But the farce really begins when Rafi is assigned the simple task of taking the frozen soup which Mom made and defrosting it for dinner. Aping for little Paula and trying to make her laugh, he loses his concentration-and his grip on the block of frozen liquid-and the whole shebang flies out the hi-rise window. Embarrassing? Not really. More like traumatizing. As in "blunt instrument trauma." It turns out there was a pedestrian walking by at just that moment, who now is sprawled in a small pool of blood, apparently dead. And when Rafi runs down there to take a look, then compares what he saw to a picture Paula had drawn and family photos, he becomes convinced that the man he may or may not have killed may (or may not) be Leni's father, Ernesto (Mario Martin).

And so this comedy plays itself out, deriving its humor from character, from situation, and from dialogue that manages to find humor in Gaza politics. Because everything takes place in two main interior sets-the family's apartment and the office building where Ernesto works, with only brief exterior shots-it has the feel of a stage play. Yet, it doesn't look staged, the way that Masterpiece Theatre productions often have. "Only Human" has the fluid feel of film, and a surefooted, firm-but-delicate sense of comedy.

"Only Human" is rated "R" for some sexual content, nudity, and language.

The video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, with very slight graininess but good color saturation. No complaints.

The audio could have been more robust, however. It's a make-due Spanish Dolby Digital Stereo with optional subtitles in English. Though it's not hollow-sounding or flat, there's just a quality about the sound that feels "there" rather than a rich presence.

There are no extras.

Bottom Line:
"Only Human" is a winner, but to use a baseball analogy it wins with "small ball." It's an understated film that manages to use farce without going over the top as often happens. There are no home runs here. Just stolen bases, squeeze bunts, and a quiet celebration in the lockerroom afterwards.


Film Value