What is it about food that makes films with ethnic-identity themes easier to swallow? Last year’s Tortilla Soup was a fairly digestible remake of Eat Drink Man Woman, and now American Adobo gives us the Filipino American perspective with the Philippines’ national dish as title and main metaphor. The ingredients are familiar: five friends who knew each other in college, a picture-postcard New York, and family events to which everyone brings his or her relationship disorders (an aftertaste of the recent East Indian American drama ABCD). But Adobo doesn’t exoticize the culture so much as leaven it with a sense of ordinariness. A family man from suburban Long Island considers returning to the country of his birth after realizing he doesn’t love his wife, while a career woman forces herself to deal with her boyfriend’s infidelities. Her handsome, profligate cousin contemplates reform when faced with possible disease, as a fortysomething single compensates for her lack of a love life by cooking for her friends.
Although most of the cast hails from the Philippines, as does director Laurice Guillen, the dialogue (spoken in a mixture of English and Tagalog) seems filtered through too many American soap operas. Yet even the most dramatic events—a father throwing his willful daughter out of the house, a gay man taking his mother to see his dying lover—are tempered by optimistic resolutions and a dual cultural perspective. In Adobo, ethnicity is not just the spice, but at the heart of more universal concerns.