Parts of Abe, a good-natured but superficial family movie, are very appealing. There are mouth-watering close-ups of exotic dishes, rambunctious dinner scenes and fine performances from likable actors. Big ideas linger beneath the surface – the clash between personal identity and cultural heritage, the tension between the yearning of adolescence and the idealism of naive parents – but none of that gets explored beyond a few melodramatic scenes. What keeps the viewer engaged is the food. Make sure you know where to find your take-out menus, because you’ll have a hankering for Mediterranean fusion before finishing this movie.

Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade, Abe tells the story of a 12-year-old boy (Noah Schnapp) who personifies the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His mother’s side of the family is Jewish, his father’s is Muslim, and there never seems to be a meal with extended family that doesn’t devolve into shouting and recriminations, mostly coming from the grandparents. One side calls him Ibrahim and the other Abraham, but Abe just wants to make everyone happy while he’s figuring out who he is. And what makes him happiest is cooking.

It’s a charming idea that a 12-year-old boy would bake cakes and post his kitchen adventures on social media, and Schnapp (fresh off his role as Will in “Stranger Things”) pours a lot of enthusiasm into the part. He’s a gangly bundle of yearning, and he charms his way into a gig helping out in a community kitchen run by a social media celebrity, Chico, played by the Brazilian pop star Seu Jorge. He made a splash in the States with his role as a crooner singing Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and his presence here infuses the film with some welcome flavor and snap.

The heart of the story lies in Abe’s apprenticeship to Chico, who is friendly but demanding. Insisting that he start with the basics, Chico has Abe washing dishes and taking out the trash for a week before he even lets him pick up a knife. When Abe finally earns the right to get creative with some recipes, he’s drawn to the idea of fusion cuisine. If he can harmonize the ingredients and techniques of his competing heritages, he thinks, maybe he can bring some peace to his bickering family.

It’s not a profound idea, but it’s an appealing one. Clichés lurk everywhere, such as the idea that sadness while cooking makes the food taste bad, but the zestiness of the recipes, and a stellar soundtrack of bossa nova and tropicalia tunes cuts through some of the schmaltz. Still, there are few surprises lurking for Abe on his journey towards self-discovery. Major dramatic events unfold and resolve within single scenes, as if the film needed to rush through its story beats as fast as possible. None of the characters feels developed beyond a single characteristic that puts them in conflict with Abe’s desires for acceptance and family harmony, and the eventual heartwarming reconciliation feels manufactured to complete the story’s arc. Real families, like old recipes, are much more complicated than this, but while the story might not be filling, it contains plenty of flavor and spice.

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