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A desperate TV producer convinces an old Armenian Uncle to star in a new reality show. Cultures collide when Uncle Rafael is thrown into the Schumacher family household where he has one week to save a broken and dysfunctional American family from falling apart. The only rule-everyone must follow his rules. Written by
My Uncle Rafael is genial enough for kids to view but not good enough to particularly recommend. It plays like one gigantic, scrupulous parable and sometimes forgets it's also supposed to be entertaining. It has its heart in the right place, as most family films do, but its execution, punchlines, and dialog sometimes make it seem more cut out to serve as a homemade film for church than a theatrical production.
The title character is played by Vahik Pirhamzei, who made the character popular in his home country of Armenia. He is a seventy-one year old, bluntly honest uncle who uses morals and dialect from the old country to give people advice and encouragement in present day America. I've always silently felt that in times like these, when people seem to becoming more and more intellectually and morally vapid, that people like Uncle Rafael are almost essential to the prosperity of good-natured wholesomeness in society.
A TV producer thinks so too. Desperate for a show idea, she convinces Rafael in his son's coffee shop to star in the pilot of a reality show, helping a dysfunctional family who is currently filing for divorce. The couple is Blair (Missi Pyle) and Jack (Anthony Clark of TV's Yes, Dear), who have been going through a rough patch since Blair insists that Jack cheated on her the night he got drunk at a party. Their two children, Kim and Beau, are caught in the middle of this, and are finding it difficult to adapt to mom's new boyfriend Damon (John Michael Higgins), a cocky, often obnoxious know-it-all.
Uncle Rafael sees how deeply dysfunctional the family is and tries to lay down ground rules that they must obey. The obligatory happens when we see how everyone but Jack is against Rafael and his old-school ideology until they see that he actually may be able to help them in their marital quandary.
There are two main issues with the premise that must be addressed. One, the comedic elements never seem to be funny or amusing as the writer thinks they should be. The problem is you couldn't do a fish-out-of-water story like this without the fish himself being funny and showing him having a difficult time assimilating to a culture not his own. Most, if not all, of the puns in the film fall flat. When the TV producer asks Rafael if he'd be interested in doing the pilot for the show, he replies, "pilot? But I don't fly." At later points in the film he enjoys quoting and impersonating Jay-Z, as well as cracking strangely unnecessary and - most of all - unfunny jokes about Kim Kardashian. Things like that grow tiresome quickly.
However, I can't fault the film for being at least marginally successfully at its goal, which is to show that life-problems can be repaired with a certain amount of effort and commitment. Pirhamzei does a capable job at bringing his extremely moral character to at least some level where it's possible to have a connection with him. Pyle and Clark have chemistry that's rewarding to watch, and, no matter how textbook everything is solved, there's at least enough human interest to make you want to see these characters come out successful in the long run.
Is there a market for a film like My Uncle Rafael? I suppose but I think you'll have to do a little searching to find it. Many parents may disregard the film for its cultural differences, which while shallow is understandable in a basic sense. However, I do see the parents who courageously buy the film when released not having to sit through it multiple times unlike some kid films. This is the kind of film where the message rings true once and the more you see it the more deluded it gets. Imagine the film being a pitcher Kool-Aid and every time you rewatch the film you had a fourth of a cup of water to the pitcher.
Starring: Vahik Pirhamzei, Missi Pyle, Anthony Clark, and John Michael Higgins. Directed by: Marc Fusco.
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