(On DVD from Amazon)
There's not much going on in the kitchen of the Black Cat Cafe in London that has much taste. Employing a concept of vignettes held together by the walls of a cafe -- derived possibly from Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes" -- this expression of the device is writing 101.
It starts off with manager/employer Rachel (Marsha Thomason, "Pure") arriving at her office above the cafe one morning and finding her boyfriend/chef asleep on the couch. Having heard about his twosome the night before --without her-- she fires him. But, it not only makes her sad and feeling alone -- it gives her the greater problem of not having a chef in the kitchen for the lunch crowd.
Ah, the lunch crowd. This band of regulars has nothing on its plate except a boatload of relationships that come off, first, as sophomorically contrived and, second, of sub-sophomore inspiration. Witness:
Waitress Vanessa (Mena Suvari, "American Beauty") is nothing if not supportive -- of her boss and of her quirky grandmother sitting at a table in the corner, giving the patrons "the eye." The poor woman's behavior could be described as dementia, though Vanessa is in denial about a problem.
An attractive blond woman's so-called fiance is a humorless idiot who wants to control her. When she can't take his bullying ways any longer, she calls the wedding off and he loudly accuses her of being a porn queen (with flashes of the illusion).
At a table nearby a young man seeks the solace of his buddy over his breakup with his girlfriend and, after incredibly boring chatter about his sexual preferences, he's alarmed to see his girlfriend show up with a guy. Without yet knowing it, he's also the particular object of Vanessa's mother, who thinks the young lad is her dead husband.
The girlfriend, who arrived alone for a blind-date meeting arranged by a friend finds the man to be a social neanderthal and demands that he leave.
To further the frat-house level of conceit in this disparate lunch, her ex-boyfriend is urged by his pal to approach the attractive blond so as to make his ex-girlfriend jealous. When he does, Vanessa's grandmother jumps up and accuses him of being a sexual pervert, pounding him over the head.
At yet another table, a man confesses to his lawyer friend that he's up on charges of exposing himself to a 12-year old girl in an alley when all he was doing was peeing against a brick wall. His second mistake was in making up a false alibi of being with his lawyer friend when he wasn't.
It's a wonder anyone's left with an appetite.
But that's all right since there's very little getting cooked in the kitchen. The staff is too disconcerted by their own relationship problems to actually prepare meals. These are not exactly anyone's salad days.
Well, it's only a set. And the budget is too small to afford an actual prop person to furnish the illusion of real kitchen activity. ("They'll never notice.") It's not about food or reality, anyway.
On the positive side, what the film has going for it are twofold: one is the consistency of exaggerations. Sort of like the Stockholm syndrome in which the captive adapts to his captor -- you adjust to the perversion of reality in the writing and become increasingly interested in the characters until you find yourself feeling something for them. Familiarity breeds like.
Most of that good accrues to the skills of the two lead actresses: Suvari and Thomason. Don't paint them with the same brush as the people who cooked up theis half-baked recipe. These two provide the picture something of a heartbeat. Both show warm, skillful potentials beyond the culinary misadventure they're in.
While I realize that the sophomoric angst served up here is some people's cup of java, it's artificially sweetened enough to drive me to herbal tea. As far as the caffeine, the claim isn't justified and the coffee is stale.
~~ Jules Brenner