At least one more time, apparently, as the team of Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri prove with "Only Human," which they wrote and directed. The film offers little new in terms of story, so much so that much of the plot itself is predictable, yet it's so gung ho in its efforts to plow forward with as broad a farce as possible that the giggles flow naturally throughout. The laughs more than make up for the familiarity.
Leni (Marián Aguilera) and Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) are a happy new couple who have flown into town to visit Leni's family, which Rafi has not yet met. In the cramped apartment, we have Leni's overbearing mother (Norma Aleandro); her brother (Fernando Ramallo), so into orthodox Judaism that he's covered the light switches with duct tape to prevent anyone from accidentally switching them on during the Sabbath; her promiscuous sister (María Botto), whose sex life conflicts with the job of raising her young daughter (Alba Molinero); and a grandfather (Max Berliner) whose vision and hearing problems does nothing to stop him from wandering about with a loaded rifle. One last ingredient: Leni has conveniently forgotten to inform her family that Rafi is Palestinian. Then again, what's the Middle East conflict compared to arguments at the dinner table?
The comedy of "Only Human" flies at us at a breakneck pace, a nonstop rhythm in tune with its screwball sensibilities. Harari and Pelegri take delight in letting the chaos of this fateful evening build and build and build, carrying the audience along with it. A few moments of awkward introductions set the stage for a bit of business with a chunk of frozen soup, which sets the stage for death and prostitutes and gunplay and a missing father and an baby duck and a singing toy cactus and yes, even a scene where Rafi hides in plain sight in front of the grandfather while the grandfather does a bit of stand-up business in the lavatory.
That last item sounds like it should be out-and-out horrible, yet it turns out to be one of the film's funniest pieces. Toledo and Berliner make the physical comedy of the moment click, while the filmmakers allow the scene to stretch out just a bit longer than it should be, knowing that uncomfortably quiet moments like this make for some hearty laughs.
Yet there's also a sweetness throughout, based in the script's sharp construction of the characters and the cast's translation of these roles. These are people we want to keep watching, as they feel real despite the cartoonish mayhem exploding around them. Aguilera and Toledo bring a spark to their performances that make us root for this mismatched couple; we're genuinely concerned when the evening threatens to tear them apart for good. Aleandro, meanwhile, delivers another of her excellent turns as a woman struggling to keep her family from falling apart. She masters the comedy, yes, but underneath it, she puts in the drama.
Harari and Pelegri also show a keen eye for the little quirks every family has. Watch the scene where the sister puts her daughter to bed. There's a wordless bit of business that has her handing the child a pair of slippers as some sort of de facto teddy bear, and then a bit where she puts her thumb in the child's mouth until the girl falls asleep. The latter's a bit much in terms of oddball sensibilities, yet it also reveals a stronger connection between the two that had not yet been revealed in the story, all without ever stopping to explain. (The shoes, meanwhile, are another mystery, but I enjoyed it even more. Every parent knows their kid has some peculiar habit that makes no sense. Cuddling up with a pair of shoes is this simply child's such habit, and it makes her genuine.)
"Only Human" is, then, such a pleasant surprise; its premise sounds like it would be unappealing and unoriginal, yet its execution is witty, lively, and thoroughly entertaining.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation is slightly soft in spots but is otherwise quite solid.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack does the dialogue-heavy film well. Optional English subtitles are available.
None, not counting six trailers for other Magnolia releases. In addition, a preview for "The Lost City" and ad for the HDNet cable channel play as the disc loads; both are skippable.
More than just a comedy about the zaniness of family, "Only Human" is far funnier and more clever than expected, a giddy farce that slowly builds to full pandemonium mode without losing track of its character-driven center. Recommended.