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`Human,' romantic comedy with a real-world mind-set

Film puts a clever new spin on the `Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' setup.

July 07, 2006|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

Written and directed by the husband-and-wife team of Dominic Harari and Teresa De Pelegri, the Spanish film "Only Human" ("Seres Queridos") mines the comic possibilities of the classic setup of introducing the fiance to the family, with results that are playful, charming and surprisingly thoughtful. Rafi (Guillermo Toledo) is a professor and, though a bit of a nerd, just the kind of man that rising television personality Leni (Marian Aguilera) should want to bring home.

Except that her family is Jewish and Rafi is Palestinian. So there's that.

At first the couple tries to hide Rafi's cultural identity from her family, but in due time it comes out. Complications quickly escalate, involving a tub of frozen soup that falls out of their apartment window and whether Leni's father is having an affair or is merely dead. The rising tensions threaten to split Leni and Rafi apart.

To recognize how sharply and distinctly drawn the characters and situation in "Only Human" are, it is interesting to imagine its American remake. The family members -- a newly observant brother, a slutty sister, a dotty grandpa and harried mom -- wouldn't be out of place in the landscape of a dysfunctional family film such as this year's Sundance success "Little Miss Sunshine." The deft way in which Harari and De Pelegri graft a social and political situation onto the romance of two people, however, would likely be ground out of any contemporary American-made counterpart, more "Guess Who" than "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

There is little outright speechifying, but "Only Human" nevertheless explores the ways in which differences can be grappled with, appreciated and overcome.

The ending, sweetly referencing "Some Like It Hot," is softly romantic and hopeful, and would not have been out of place in a screwball Hollywood classic. With delightful performances by Toledo (recognizable to precious few from the under-seen "The Perfect Crime") and Aguilera, "Only Human" is full of characters who are all too human, flawed and insecure but trying to make the best of it in a mixed-up, crazy world.


`Only Human'

MPAA rating: R for some sexual content, nudity and language

A Magnolia Pictures release. Writer-directors Dominic Harari, Teresa De Pelegri. Producers Mariela Besuievski, Gerardo Herrero, Javier Lopez Blanco. Director of photography Danny Cohen. Editor Fernando Pardo. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.

In selected theaters.

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