“Family Law” is proof that America has not cornered the market on angsty comedy-dramas about twentysomethings who don’t know what to do about adulthood. The film is from Argentina and stars South American actors, but it could just as easily be from Hollywood and star Zach Braff.
It’s the story of Ariel Perelman (Daniel Hendler), a Buenos Aires law professor living in the shadow of his father. Perelman Senior (Arturo Goetz) is a local defender beloved by one and all for his decency, hard work, and general good-naturedness. He demonstrates real concern for his clients. He smiles as he walks down the street, he bounces down the courthouse steps, he is a man in harmony with the world. Wherever he goes, there’s a free lunch or a warm handshake waiting for him.
Those are big shoes to fill, and Perelman Junior (everyone calls him “Perelman,” including his wife) gave up trying years ago. The original plan was for him to become his father’s law partner. Instead he became a professor, which is nice, because one of his students, Sandra (Julieta Diaz), a Pilates instructor, eventually became his wife. They have a little boy named Gaston (Eloy Burman), 3 years old and cute as the dickens. Will Perelman and Gaston’s relationship be like Perelman and Perelman’s is?
That’s the question plaguing Perelman Junior, and I have to say I’d be more interested if it were more clear just what his relationship with his father is. Writer/director Daniel Burman gives us brief glimpses into it — Senior used to take Junior to court, never to the zoo or the park; Junior forgets Senior’s birthday; they are warm and cordial to one another, though — but a fully developed picture never emerges. Does he want to be more like his father? Less like him? Hendler’s performance suggests some of both, a little envy here, a little resentment there, but nothing concrete.
One thing Hendler conveys well, though, is a very funny sense of apathy. With just a look he can amusingly show his disdain for Gaston’s daycare center’s frivolous activities, for the scantily dressed babysitter his wife hires, for the attractive men Sandra comes in contact with as a Pilates instructor.
Overall, it’s a nice film, offering a few smiles and very likable performances by the two Perelmans. It could stand to have its themes fleshed out a little more, maybe tone up some of the flabbier parts, a little nip and tuck here and there. But as far as movies about young people grappling with adulthood go, it’s not bad.
B- (1 hr., 40 min.; Spanish with subtitles; )