The coming-of-age movie is a really tricky thing to pull off. Most of them are either raunchy and vapid, and then others are too introspective and just cloying. Well, this lightweight of a French film, which has gotten rave reviews for Sharif's justifiably great performance, is a little bit of both and - in the end - neither. Ibrahim begins with a toe-tapping, swingin' 60's soundtrack as Moses Schmitt (Pierre Boulanger) practices pickup lines for hookers, and for a while it does seem like a New Wave-inspired flick complete with handheld camera angles and a negletive father. Schmitt, a Jew, soon picks up with the local grocer (Sharif, the title character) who happens to be a Muslim, and as their strange friendship develops, director Duperyon's adaptation reaches high for themes of clashing religion and the shared experiences of the young and old. And for the most part, Ibrahim is an enjoyable ride. I enjoyed its light feel, Boulanger's breakout performance, and the fact that the kid is the uptight cynic and Sharif's Ibrahim turns out to be the wide-eyed life-lover.
Unfortunately, though, Ibrahim just can't juggle all of its plot strands and be a truly meaningful film in the end - the neglectful father leaves and Ibrahim adopts, Schmitt's mother drops in, the new father and son take a (lazily edited) road trip...and then the movie ends in a tragedy that you'll see coming a mile away. The movie's short and harmless, by all means, but the movie just doesn't make sense in an emotional way; we never see enough of the developing friendship of Schmitt and Boulanger. And the final tragedy? Well, the dialogue is so ham-handed it seems ripped straight from a novel (which it probably was). As much as I admired and enjoyed the light tone of Ibrahim, intelligently laced with a current of sadness beneath, it never can let the two coexist and just ends up being disappointing. GRADE: B-