The Hits and Misses of Culinary Cinema
Hollywood has taken us deep inside the sports industry (Moneyball, Bull Durham, Any Given Sunday), the stock market (Wall Street, Boiler Room), news media (Network, The Paper, Broadcast News), and even the inner workings of Hollywood itself (Get Shorty, Adaptation, Sunset Blvd.). But the restaurant industry, and the burgeoning food and wine culture surrounding it, has been largely – and strangely – neglected on film. The era of celebrity chefs, food bloggers, and wine festivals galore deserves some proper attention from Tinseltown, and the few stabs that have been made at capturing the essence of a chef’s life or a food lover’s passion have been mostly…well, half-baked.
Sometimes it’s about a lack of authenticity. When one of the world’s most glamorous women, Catherine Zeta-Jones, is cast as a workaholic executive chef – possibly one of the most un-glamorous jobs on the planet – in No Reservations, you have to roll your eyes a little. And then a little more when in every scene, her hair and makeup are flawless and she’s not breaking a sweat even when working the grill station in a kitchen without air conditioning. This movie was not created with a keen eye for the restaurant industry. (Cute script, though.)
The hit Ryan Reynolds comedy, Waiting, about a group of disgruntled restaurant service staff, gets a little closer to the truth. (Yes, your waiter hates you.) But the movie’s prime focus is on gross-out shenanigans behind the scenes, and clearly isn’t aimed at food lovers. Neither, of course, are whistle-blowing exposés like Fast Food Nation and Super-Size Me, which could conceivably be used as diet aids.
“Food films” work best when the attention is on just that: the food, and the transformative properties it has on the characters who indulge. 1999’s Chocolat contains probably the ultimate food-as-love metaphor, with Juliette Binoche as a chocolatier whose confections posess seemingly magical properties to her smitten customers. The animated Pixar smash Ratatouille deserves credit for depicting the kind of slavering passion a chef has for his trade, and the profoundly uplifting effect good food can have on even the most cynical souls. And 2009’s Julie and Julia lets us get as close to divine French cuisine as is possible without actually being there. The cinamatography makes every dish look vivid and juicy, and the film’s inside look at France’s famous Cordon Bleu cooking school is fascinating. So, when Amy Adams’ character raves about a perfectly-seasoned sauce or succulent roast, you can practically taste it right along with her. It’s a movie about food lovers, for food lovers, and if it doesn’t make you want to hop into the kitchen and cook your own masterpiece, you might want to check your tastebuds.