‘Chinese Take-Out’ undercuts humor with grief

People of a certain personality just can’t stand folks in their space. It’s not that they hate people, necessarily, their ecosystem is just delicate enough to come undone at the slightest intrusion. One such man is Roberto (Ricardo Darin, “Wild Tales”).

Roberto spends his days alone, taking care of his father’s hardware store. He sees a few customers a day and gets a weekly delivery of newspapers from around the world. Inside he finds absurd stories to collect. One such absurd story happens to himself when he sees Jun (Ignacio Huang, “Comandos Indestructibles”) thrown out of a cab. Roberto decides to keep Jun with him until he figures out how to send him home.

“Chinese Take-Out” is classified as a comedy, but it’s sly. Most of the gags, if they can rightly be called gags, come out of cultural clashes. It’s a tried and true formula used since before cinema: Two people of different cultures are forced to work past language barriers. But the movie handles these issues differently than other comedies.

Namely, that story’s undercut with grief. Palpable at many turns, the feeling of loss is only reinforced by the monochrome color scheme. Sure, in time, Roberto may come to understand Jun, and vice versa, but it’s a rough go to get there, with chuckles here and there to alleviate some tension.

Thankfully, “Chinese Take-Out” is infused with a tender spirit. Writer and director Sebastian Borensztein loves both characters deeply. So even when they come to blows, all doesn’t feel lost. Their relationship is the heart of the movie and with a laser-guided focus, Borensztein builds the film’s world around them.

He also understands that a loner character needs a foil who speaks his language, and the sister-in-law of one of Roberto’s acquaintances, named Mari (Muriel Santa Ana, “My First Wedding”), fits the bill well. While she’s more loosely defined than Roberto or Jun, she’s charming on-screen.

Heartfelt and honest at every turn, “Chinese Take-Out” is worth seeing. Darin as Roberto and Huang as Jun have indelible chemistry. They’re more sad than happy, and it’s grief that brings them together. But it’s this honesty is what makes the movie worthwhile.