Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
My Uncle Rafael: From Armenia with Faith
Pirhamzei wants to be the Armenian-American Tyler Perry. Well, we’ll see. At least he’s not giving us any “Big, Fat,
Armenian” this or that’s. After creating
his signature persona in several stage plays popular with Los Angeles’ Armenian
community, Pirhamzei is making the transition to the big screen. He and his title character show a lot of
faith in Marc Fusco’s My Uncle Rafael (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Sarkissian’s family emigrated not from Armenia, but from Iran, where they had
expatriated in search of work. For
obvious reasons, the Armenian Christians found it advisable to leave after the
Islamic Revolution. Despite his years in
America, Uncle Rafael, as everyone knows him, is still getting a handle on
English grammar. However, he is never at
a loss for words when someone needs an uncle’s advice. Uncle Rafael’s wise counsel is so on-point, a prospective
television producer recruits him for a mid-season replacement reality show.
Rafael will have his hands full with the dysfunctional Schumacher family. Blair Schumacher has yet to finalize her
divorce with her loser first husband Jack, but she is already living with her
slimy fiancé Damon, a fact that does not sit well with a traditionalist like
Uncle Rafael. However, while the show is
taping, everyone has to abide by his rules.
Meanwhile, Uncle Rafael’s slick operator son Hamo is looking for his
piece of the producing action.
Sarkissians operate a coffee shop that looks like a little java jewel, assuming
they have wifi. They also take faith and
family seriously, which is refreshing.
However, the comedy is decidedly hit or miss—and the hits are pretty
modest. Pirhamzei never really
capitalizes on the opportunity for some Yakov Smirnov-style Iranian humor (“in
the Islamic Republic, you don’t watch TV, TV watches you”), which might have lent
the film a wider topical interest.
Instead, it is mostly your basic culture clash gags and familial
his characterizations are broad, Pirhamzei, in a dual role as both Rafael and
Hamo, taps into something genuinely heartfelt.
His big dramatic scene with himself is actually quite well done. Missi Pyle (the diva upstaged by Uggi and
George Valentin in The Artist) also
vamps it up nicely as Blair Schumacher.
Mostly though, the supporting cast is performing at a middling sitcom
level, commensurate with their material.
Uncle Rafael is
harmless and obviously means well. Fusco
never lets the pace get too pokey and Pirhamzei is a dynamic performer. It simply is not very consequential film. Maybe you just have to be Armenian. For Pirhamzei’s fans, My Uncle Rafael opens this Friday (9/21) in New York at the AMC
Labels: Missi Pyle, Vahik Pirhamzei