Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Only Human

Sometimes it helps to laugh over tragic events; dark humor often eases stress and grants perspective. At other times, making light of serious issues is just in poor taste. In their latest film, married writer-directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri walk the fine line between those extremes by looking for the funny side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The results are dubious, but ultimately, the litmus test for whether individual viewers will enjoy Only Human depends more than on their tolerance for shrill Meet The Parents-style discomfort comedy than on their views of Middle Eastern politics.

Spanish actor Guillermo Toledo stars as a Palestinian-born academic whose Jewish fiancée (Marián Aguilera) is in fact taking him home to Madrid to meet her parents; she promises that they're liberal Jews who'll have no problem with him, but neglects to explain that they're also a collection of broad comic stereotypes. Before long, Aguilera's blind grandfather is waving around a loaded rifle and bragging about how many Arabs it's killed, while her newly orthodox brother is lecturing everyone on Sabbath behavior, and her jealous, promiscuous sister is playing footsie with Toledo under the table. Informed of Toledo's ethnicity, Aguilera's mother (Norma Aleandro) wails that any baby they have will have to blow itself up. Toledo tries to remain unobtrusive as the household rockets along in what seems to be a normal level of contentious chaos, but he still manages to ratchet up the zaniness when he accidentally drops a brick of frozen soup out a high-rise window, beaning and possibly killing a man who may be Aguilera's father.

For a film that pads out such broad slapstick with toilet humor, obnoxious-child antics, and even cute-animal business, Only Human is surprisingly enjoyable, thanks to the filmmakers' relatively low-key, Pedro Almodóvar-style approach. Still, it'd be far more poignant if Toledo and Aguilera were stronger characters, or had a stronger relationship. Their love gets a lot of lip service (literally and figuratively), but the film undercuts it by implying that Aguilera is sleeping with the enemy as a desperate ploy for attention in a family where outrageous behavior is the norm, while Toledo is a bland nebbish obediently kowtowing to a more forceful personality. If they hadn't lucked into the zaniest in-laws in Spain, their vanilla affair wouldn't be worth laughs or drama. "There'll be peace in Israel before your father gives me an orgasm!" Aleandro proclaims at one point. Thoroughly upstaged by such histrionics, Toledo and Aguilera can only slink into the background, leaving Only Human without much focus or weight.