||It’s not exactly a new premise for a wacky comedy--a girl brings home her fiancé for dinner with her dysfunctional family--but “Only Human” raises the stakes by adding an edgy contemporary element, with the Madrid family Jewish and the boyfriend Palestinian. But that twist isn’t enough to take the picture into the hard-nosed Billy Wilder territory writer-directors Teresa de Peligri and Dominic Harari are obviously aiming for. Any movie that elects to ape the classic closing line of “Some Like It Hot” had better make sure the comparisons it draws won’t be too embarrassing; this one doesn’t. It’s more like “Kiss Me, Stupid.”
The daughter in question is Leni (Marian Aguilera), a free-spirited sort working in television, who brings her boyfriend Rafi (Guillermo Toledo), a bearded, nervous academic, to her family’s apartment for a visit. She hasn’t told her harried mother Gloria (Norma Aleandro) that the fellow’s Palestinian, allowing her to assume he’s Jewish. And while Leni’s father Ernesto (Mario Martin) is still absent, keeping long hours at the office, the rest of the clan is rather oppressively present--sister Tania (Maria Botto), a flirtatious exotic dancer, ostentatiously orthodox younger brother David (Fernando Ramallo), Tania’s trouble-making daughter Paula (Alba Molinero) and blind, senile grandfather Dudu (Max Berliner), who’s apt to talk about his days as an Israeli fighter and wave about his old rifle.
It’s not long, of course, before humorously slapstick interventions occur--most with a decidedly dark tone. The most important involves Rafi’s dropping a tub of frozen soup out the kitchen window, knocking out a passerby whom he comes to believe is the returning Ernesto (and whom he thinks he might have killed). Complications ensue, including Gloria’s suspicion that her husband is having an affair and the befuddled Ernesto’s believing a streetwalker to be his wife; there’s also an episode in which the gregarious Tania performs for the embarrassed Rafi. Of course, the finale opts for reconciliation and acceptance, though even here shadows are still lurking.
For much of its running time, “Only Human” is moderately engaging and raises some smiles, even if the characters tend toward caricature and some of the bits (like one involving Rafi and Dudu in the bathroom) are needlessly coarse. And Toledo proves a likable schlub, showing some of the skills of older silent comedians. But especially in the last reel, when Ernesto becomes the focus of attention, the script and direction both flag. The result is a film that’s amiable, and occasionally even insightful, but also sometimes just silly and at others a trifle tasteless. Ultimately it’s a mixed bag that, unhappily, doesn’t deliver quite enough. It won’t make Wilder roll over in his grave, but would have encouraged him to exhibit his famous scowl. Nobody’s perfect, after all.