Thursday, October 13, 2011

Laugh at traditional Brit cuisine

There seems to be no end to nostalgia for the 1960s. At least where Baby Boomers are concerned. And so we have it again with Toast, the just-released British film starring Helena Bonham Carter and which opens tomorrow at Landmark’s Maple in West Bloomfield. The premise is terrible British food. Or at least the kind of food that ruled Britannia before the advent of large scale immigration. Canned peas and deep fried toast anyone? The story is actually a bio of a famous Brit food and TV personality Nigel Slater (based on his memoir), whose dearly beloved mum (Victoria Hamilton) cooks canned vegetables by actually placing the cans in boiling water! When young Nigel spots more exotic fare in the local grocer’s he becomes fascinated with good food, attempting to introduce more unconventional meals to his very square mid-1960s Midlands parents. His dad (Ken Stott) balks at spaghetti, for God’s sake, not realizing it has to be cooked, and then complains it’s “soft.” There is a subplot here. Besides his budding interest in the culinary arts young Nigel is also attracted to those of his own sex. He espies the family gardener changing clothes from his Marlon Brando-like leather motorcycle duds. His dad of course then fires the gardener. Despite Nigel’s mum’s inadequate cooking he loves her dearly. But a respiratory illness eventually takes her life. Soon after dad hooks up with Mrs. Potter (Bonham Carter), a sexy tart who’s cheating on her husband. Nigel doesn’t want her in the house but can’t resist her delectable cooking. As his interest in food grows so does Nigel’s and Mrs. Potter’s rivalry. Enough said. I’m getting very tired of nostalgia films of this period. And I think a cease and desist order should be placed on making more of them. That said Bonham Carter is good here though she seems to reprise Julie Walters in Educating Rita. I also found it hard to hate her as an uncouth commoner because I know she’s personally not like that. Perhaps Julie Walters or Lesley Manville (Another Year) would have been more convincing. And while the film is a bio it also seems clich├ęd to tie in a love of cooking with gayness. There are no real problems with the film. It’s well acted and there are some touching moments, especially as young Nigel (played by Oscar Kennedy and Freddie Highmore at different ages) contemplates love for his mum, food, and what he will do the rest of his life - a professional interest in culinary, surely. But a few quibbles. For a family so non-food savvy how do they have an extraordinary vegetable garden, tended by the gay gardener Josh (Matthew McNulty)? And could even a “common” woman like Mrs. Potter fall for an aged grumpy and sexless male like Nigel’s father? Oh well, there's no accounting for attraction. There is also a fixation on the songs of Dusty Springfield. I’m a huge Springfield fan but, come on, this is a little much. Or is it simply a gay thing? The film is billed as a comedy, and there are some humorous moments but overall the effect is touching and maudlin. It’s not bad for S. J. Clarkson’s directorial debut but even this director should be banned from making more mid-Sixties nostalgia films.

No comments:

Post a Comment