In film, food has always been a tough subject, or entity, to base a picture around. Sometimes, when a real genius or auteur gets behind the idea of what food says about a character, story, culture or time period, we end up with a masterpiece like Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. However, when a major studio decides to use food as a setting, you get a No Reservations, an ultimately forgettable and almost unwatchable piece of slop that wouldn’t even be good enough as a meal to a prisoner in the worst of jails around the world. Rarely do these food-centric pictures ever hit somewhere in the enjoyable middle.
This week is one of those rare occasions.
Friday marks the release of Roger Gual’s latest film, Tasting Menu, a slight but ultimately charming look at the final night in one of the world’s most beloved restaurants.
One year after getting the chance to book a table at the most exclusive eatery on the planet, Marc and Rachel have seen their lives flipped upside down, and their marriage disintegrate. However, the date has finally come, and the two meet back up in Costa Brava for what appears to be one hell of a night in a culinary wonderland. The last night for the restaurant, the film follows this evening through the eyes of various people, ranging from our central couple in distress to the restaurant’s head chef, its manager, and even a mysterious man who may or may not be a critic with a very specific taste for wine.
The film’s greatest attribute is director Roger Gual and, more specifically, his cinematographer Emilio Guirao. Both breathe a beautiful sense of life into the picture, not even just during the sequences of food being cooked or consumed. With beautifully lit interiors and lavishly decorated sets, paired opposite breathtaking exteriors and gorgeous costuming, the film really carries with it a high-end sense of style that will have you running to your local five star restaurant and boutique clothing store with equal intrigue. Not much comes in the way of real directorial flights of fancy, the film doesn’t hold with it a distinct directorial style, but is instead given life by lush photography and an inviting aesthetic palette.
Ultimately, where the film is undone, is in the screenplay. A relatively slight romantic comedy/drama, the film is a charming look at a relationship post-mortem, but doesn’t say much new in the way of modern relationships. Engaging and far from a forgettable experience, the film doesn’t carry with it much in the way of a real emotional core, instead playing as an Altman-light collection of short stories brought together thanks to the central narrative gimmick. Going to the places that one could guess as the final destination for each character from the moment they arrive, the film is a pleasant, if far from exciting or enticing cinematic experience.
It does help that the performances are relatively solid. Led by the pair of Jan Cornet and Claudia Bassols, the film may not go to unexpected narrative places (the final act is particularly excruciating in its following of romantic narrative cliches), but is elevated by these two and their solid chemistry when together. Names like Andrew Tarbet, Stephen Rea, Fionnula Flanagan and Vicenta N’Dongo round out a rather solid cast that isn’t given a ton to do thanks to the sub-par script, but really brings to life a solid and breathlessly charming comedy.
Overall, while this may likely go unseen by many, if you and your loved one are in the mood for a romantic picture to really launch this Spring film season off properly, you could do a lot worse than this foodie dream. Solid, if ultimately underwhelming, Tasting Menu is an enjoyable and beautifully crafted look into the final night of a restaurant any viewer will strive to find a real life correlation for.