Film Review: My Uncle Rafael

The Uncle Rafael character created by actor Vahik Pirhamzei has appeared in several stage comedies that have proven popular within the Armenian/American community in Los Angeles—and perhaps that audience will also enjoy this movie. But for anyone

One Internet source cites the native-born actor Vahik Pirhamzei as “the Peter Sellers of the Persian world”—a notion that undoubtedly sends Sellers’ corpse spinning in its grave—and another calls him “the Tyler Perry of the Armenian world.” Go figure.

Actually, neither comparison comes anywhere near an accurate description of Pirhamzei’s peculiar kind of comedy. When he plays a youngish man, which is what he is, he exudes the kind of oily bravado that’s usually a cover-up for severe insecurities. He has just such a role in My Uncle Rafael—as Hamo, the owner of a drive-in coffee shop in L.A. But Pirhamzei also appears as the film’s star, Uncle Rafael, who’s Hamo’s father—a limping, hat-and-vest-wearing, cigar-smoking, expressionless old guy who helps out at the coffee shop and, for some unfathomable reason, is beloved by all of its customers.

Evidently Pirhamzei has had considerable success with the Uncle Rafael character in a series of stage comedies that have toured Armenian communities around the U.S. And we wish him well with that. But before he transferred Uncle Rafael to the movies, perhaps he should have screened some of the ethnic TV comedies of the 1940s and ’50s—like “The Goldbergs”—in which a bossy older immigrant tries to run the lives of the younger folk because he/she always knows best. Now, Molly Goldberg was really funny. But come to think of it, maybe Pirhamzei did study those old shows, for the plotline of My Uncle Rafael seems as dated and atavistic as the leading character himself.

Here how it goes: One of the coffee-shop customers, Michele (Rachel Blanchard), has a great idea to mount a new TV reality show by having Uncle Rafael move in with a dysfunctional family to fix their problems. 
“Everybody needs an uncle,” she reasons. The household chosen for the TV pilot is occupied by Blair (Missi Pyle), her two rebellious kids Kim and Beau (Carly Chaikin and Sage Ryan), plus her live-in lover, the cheating Damon (or Demon, as Uncle Rafael calls him), played by the excellent comic actor John Michael Higgins. You see, Blair is in the process of divorcing her ineffectual husband, Jack (Anthony Clark), and of course everyone who knows all the parties involved thinks that Damon should be out and Jack back in. So! Enter Uncle Rafael with his mumbled, heavily accented, Old Country platitudes and before you know it, ipso-facto, wham-bang—everybody’s happy again!

Interestingly, the supporting players in My Uncle Rafael are uniformly good, capable actors—and the two female leads are also quite attractive, in that blonde, Southern California way. Also, to their credit, all the actors here play their roles straight—as if they have absolutely no idea they’re becoming the yummy stuffing in one of the year’s biggest turkeys! Sorry, guys, but at least you can get a few good clips out of this to put on your demo reel.