13 October 2010

Bitter Feast

I had heard about this awhile back and was intrigued, so when I saw that it was playing at the International Film Fest, I was stoked. The premise of the movie is that a chef loses his job because of a vicious review written by a food blogger (and also because, well, he's kind of a douche) and he then takes his revenge by kidnapping the blogger, torturing him and making him cook. Intriguing, right? You kinda wanna see it, don't you?

Well, so it's not great (yes, I'm mindful of the irony of writing a not-entirely-glowing review of a movie whose premise is that a vicious blogger gets tormented). It's not bad, but it's not quite as fantastic as I wanted it to be. This is partly because the the guy who plays the chef is somewhat wooden, but also because the movie overall feels kind of amateurish, like a first time film. Which is not a deadly sin, but, well, you do notice it. There's a sense that the movie is trying to do too many things with various sideplots - a private detective (although here there was one clever aspect, I don't want to give it away, but basically, something that I expected to be formulaic and predictable actually wasn't, and I appreciated that), a cooking show with an annoying hostess (who you fully expect will become a victim, which by the way is a sign that you see the chef as actually a psycho killer) who sort of dilutes the villainy that the chef is confronted with in a not-particularly-productive-way, and just, I dunno, a lot of stuff that you don't really care about. But if you cut all of it, you wouldn't have enough movie. So I dunno.

But, to prove that I'm not just writing negative things about it because I'm a narcissistic blogger (like the monsters on Yelp - have I mentioned lately how much I hate yelp?), I'm going to share some of my thoughts about the film. SPOILERS ABOUND.

The movie is actually framed by a kind of scene of originary trauma. Namely, the chef's older brother is some kind of bizarre, vicious child who quotes William Blake (I asked what the text was in the Q&A). The chosen quote is about two kinds of people, creators and destroyers. It's a little heavy handed for a movie that sets a chef against a blogger, but also slightly raised my hackles, because I resent the implication that criticism is purely parasitical or destructive. But that's my own beef, I suppose.

What's kind of fascinating about the movie is the way your sympathy is essentially flip-flopped over the course of the film, from chef to blogger. Now, this is apparently not what the director had in mind - he wanted the chef to be sympathetic throughout, he claimed in the Q&A. If so, well, sorry. But it's more interesting the way it is, I think. It is arguably also somewhat heavy handed - though the chef is not 100% sympathetic at the outset (like I said, he's sort of a douche), the blogger is an absolute monster - much more than he needed to be. He's an arrogant, hateful jerk, not only via blog, but also in his personal life, as evidenced by his unbelievably callous treatment of his wife. He sort of makes up for it with a cute apology, but it hardly redeems him. By the end of the movie, however, it's the chef who's a monster, and the blogger who you're cheering for. This is not purely because one is a killer and the other is a victim. Actually, at first, you're kind of enjoying watching the blogger suffer, despite the fact that it's pretty grisly stuff. What's interesting is how the shift happens. My boyfriend and I disagreed on when the chef became more evil, and thinking back on it, I'm really not sure. But there's a point at which his vengeance begins to seem more self-serving than reasonable, like he's starting to just enjoy sadism for the sake of it. What I found fascinating, however, is that the blogger, for me, was redeemed in a moment when, upon eating the chef's star dish spiked with poison, he gives it a bad review. This is interesting, because it's exactly the behavior that made me dislike him in the first place, but in this new context, it seems like some kind of triumphant affirmation of humanity, the ability to say fuck you in the face of death. By far the best scene in the movie.

The final scene, I have to say, was overdetermined and somewhat groan inducing. It's not the original ending, I learned, but from what I heard, it's better than the original ending - it's just not that good.

Anyways, overall - would I go see it in theatres? No. But it's definitely worth renting, especially if you're a foodie.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Watching Batali talk to basically himself , celebrity chef, was a creative twist ...I am watching this for the first time.
Thought the score was effective as well....