Review of My Uncle Rafael

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When a desperate TV producer convinces an old Armenian Uncle to star in a new reality show, cultures collide
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Movie Reviews: "My Uncle Rafael"

-- Rating: PG-13 (some language, sexual references)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Directed by: Marc Fusco
Genre: Comedy

As an Armenian growing up in Iran, actor Vahik Pirhamzei did not have an easy life, especially once the Iranian revolution started and his family had to leave for fear of persecution. From that adversity came an ability to make the best of any situation. Couple that with a penchant for storytelling, and you have the origins of many of the films that Pirhamzei has written and starred in, including "My Uncle Raphael."

The film begins with a sad sack of a man named Jack (Anthony Clark) who has been tapped by a television executive named Michele (Rachel Blanchard) to star in his own reality TV show. The show centers on his attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife Blair (Missi Pyle) while also winning back the affection of their children. He is trying to put his broken family life back together, and Michele thinks his efforts will be compelling enough to air on her network.

The problem with this idea is that Jack's pursuit of Blair is mostly boring. There is only so much bungling that an audience will take before they begin to tune out. Reality television is fraught with drama, and most people accept that at least some of that drama is staged. There is very little that is real about reality television. Michele is well aware of this, so she devises a plan to spice up the show.

Enter Rafael (Pirhamzei) and his son Hamo (also played by Pirhamzei) into the lives of Jack and his family. Even though Rafael has no blood relation to anyone, the audience of the reality show is told that he is Jack's Armenian uncle. Rafael doesn't want to do the show at first, but Hamo, who also serves as his manager, convinces him to do it. After he is introduced to the dysfunctional family, it doesn't take Uncle Rafael very long to scope them out and decide that they need a big adjustment to their worldview.

He notices that Blair is very self-centered, which isn't an ideal quality in a woman with children. She isn't a terrible mother, but she isn't a particularly good one, either. Her children Kim (Carly Chaikin) and Beau (Sage Ryan) are mouthy, disrespectful and pretty much do as they please. She does pay plenty of attention to her new man, Damon (John Michael Higgins), whom Jack dislikes for obvious reasons.

Rafael immediately begins to impose himself on the entire family, lecturing them and giving them tough love at almost every turn. These are some of the best and funniest scenes in the film, especially if you can relate to them. Almost everyone knows an obnoxious teenager or a clueless mother who deserves some comeuppance. It is great fun watching Rafael deliver exactly that.

The film will likely get compared to "Big Momma's House," in which Martin Lawrence's titular character gives a dose of reality to some fairly oblivious people. Though they are very different actors with different styles, Pirhamzei and Lawrence both know how to be authoritative, even when they are dressed up in crazy disguises. The lessons they try to impart don't feel fake at all, which is a credit to the screenwriters of both films.

Rafael is also similar to another family matriarch who likes to preach, Madea. In fact, "My Uncle Rafael" is similar to "Madea's Big Happy Family" in that it features a family that is unhappy at the start of the film but eventually finds its way to happiness by the end. Both Madea and Rafael are just a little bit kooky, but they also have the best of intentions at all times. You never question why Rafael does what he does, even if it is outrageous, because it is obvious everything is done for the good of the family.

Besides Pirhamzei as Rafael, the other standout in this film is Ryan as the obnoxious Beau, who has a tendency to be mouthy. Some of what comes out of his mouth is hilariously inappropriate for his age, which only serves to make it funnier. Though the film focuses more on Chakin as his older sister, Ryan shines brighter.

Pirhamzei sometimes directs his films, but he wisely left the directing duties for "My Uncle Rafael" to Marc Fusco. In doing so, he avoided spreading himself too thin, especially since he plays two vastly different parts. By concentrating solely on his acting roles, he turns in an impressive performance as Rafael.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars