Writer and actor Vahik Pirhamzei created the sage Uncle Rafael as a minor character for an Armenian stage production he wrote. That character has been turned into the centerpiece for the new light comedy "My Uncle Rafael," a sweet story of love and family with cultural references.
It starts with a VERY American idea: Rachel Blanchard plays a TV producer in search of a reality show hit. She convinces Uncle Rafael (Pirhamzei) to use his wisdom to help a dysfunctional family torn apart by marriage. He moves in to try to save the family members, each dealing with a different problem, while cameras capture every emotional and funny moment.
Pirhamzei follows in the footsteps of such comedians as Peter Sellers and Eddie Murphy, playing both Uncle Rafael and his son Hamo. If it wasn't for the weak makeup work used to age the actor, it would be very hard to tell that the very different roles are being played by the same person. The richness of both performances comes from Pirhamzei's familiarity with the characters, which he created.
The rest of the characters aren't developed as well through the script by Scott Yagemann and Pirhamzei. Missi Pyle and John Michael Higgins get the most out of their roles as the couple Uncle Rafael intends to separate. The weak point of the romantic triangle is Anthony Clark, as the ex-husband who is supposed to be unhappy about his life but sometimes just looks bored.
It appeared Carly Chaikin had been reduced to the same role of angst-filled teen she plays on "Suburgatory," but enough new levels are added to her role to give her more room to work.
This film will get attention for bringing aspects of the Armenian culture to the general public. The filmmakers should have taken the time to explain some of the culture events -- like a birthday party at a graveyard -- in the film. It's the cultural elements that make this more than another light romantic comedy.
The film has some rough edges, but it still finds a way to be touching and to get laughs. It's two biggest pluses are the Armenian themes and the talents of Pirhamzei.
Fresno is one of the select locations across the country where "My Uncle Rafael" is opening.
"My Uncle Rafael," rated PG-13 for language, sexual references. Stars Vahik Pirhamzei, Rachel Blanchard, Missi Pyle, Anthony Clark, John Michael Higgins. Directed by Marc Fusco. Running time: 102 minutes. Grade: B-
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.