The joy of dining out at a nice restaurant can’t quite be captured on film. After all, at least two-thirds of the pleasure is the smell and the taste of, say, a well-seasoned steak or an oaky red wine. However, the experience of working in restaurants is something entirely different than the experience of patronizing them, and that particular hustle and bustle is something the movies can and have brought to life. Regrettably, audiences won’t be able to catch a whiff of smoked pork or creamy curry through the screen, but these five movies about the restaurant industry are still a treat for the senses.
Boiling Point Is a One-Shot Indie Flick
Boiling Point is Philip Barantini’s feature-length adaptation of his 2019 short film of the same name. This low-budget, real-time, one-shot movie has quickly gone viral, and for good reason. It uses its no-cutaways conceit to recreate the intense pressure of working in the restaurant industry with more accuracy than anything that’s come before it.
Stephen Graham plays Andy, the executive chef at a posh eatery who’s in over his head, personally and professionally, as he struggles to lead his crew through the Friday night dinner rush. As the evening progresses, we learn just enough about each member of the staff, and some of the patrons, to stay invested. The hyper-naturalistic performances (especially Vinette Robinson’s) blend perfectly with the camerawork. Part hang-out, part psychological horror, Boiling Point is — as a food critic says of Chef Andy’s menu — not nearly as simple as it seems, but unpretentious and good.
Boiling Point is available to rent on VOD.
Ratatouille Is Pixar’s Tale About Finding Culinary Inspiration
For a more family-friendly take on the restaurant industry, there’s Pixar’s Ratatouille, the most heartwarming movie about health code violations ever made. The Oscar-winning animated film tells the story of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a rat who learns about human food by watching cooking shows and longs not only for a taste of the good stuff but to prove himself as a chef.
In reality, the premise would be unappetizing, to say the least, but in Pixar’s hands, Remy’s partnership with Alfredo Linguini is endearing, and the final product, set in a swoon-worthy Parisian kitchen, is as sweet as it is chic. Ratatouille, like many Pixar films, caters more to the sensibilities of adults than children, though everyone can appreciate its anti-snobbery message.
Ratatouille is available to stream on Disney+.
Chef Is Jon Favreau’s Passion Piece About Food Truck Culture
Nowadays, Jon Favreau is best known for his affiliation with Star Wars and the MCU, but the producer/writer/director/actor has just as much passion for original filmmaking — and food — as he does for big-budget franchises. 2014’s Chef is his semi-autobiographical pet project; an unassuming but utterly charming movie about food trucks. He plays the titular character, Carl Casper, a soulful near-celebrity chef who butts heads with his stuffy restaurant owner and leaves it all behind to go mobile with his friend and son.
Chef is Favreau firing on all burners. The script and direction are more subtle and refined than his genre work, but no less accessible or crowd-pleasing. And as the film’s lead, he’s a flawed but warm and relatable presence. Warning: watching Chef will undoubtedly make you crave a Cuban sandwich.
Chef is streaming on Prime Video.
The Hundred-Foot Journey Is a Feel-Good French & Indian Feast
Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg combine forces to bring you The Hundred-Foot Journey, in which the French and Indian ex-pats combine forces to bring you upscale fusion cuisine. The Kadams have fled Mumbai after political unrest following a contested election led to the arson of their family restaurant. Though the British already have a taste for Indian food, London isn’t to their liking, so they relocate to the culinary motherland that is the French countryside.
Unfortunately, selling their concept presents more of a challenge than expected, especially since a renowned Michelin star restaurant sits right across the street from their establishment, a mere 100 feet away. The Hundred-Foot Journey isn’t very old — it premiered in 2014, the same year as Chef — but it feels like a movie from another era. Its mildly progressive melting pot themes and predictable plot mechanics are empty calories, but it’s nonetheless a well-made and enjoyable movie that’s the equivalent of cinematic comfort food
The Hundred-Foot Journey is available to rent on VOD.
Big Night Serves up Comedy and Drama With a Stellar Cast
This 1996 dramady was a big hit at film festivals that year. Starring known foodie Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, Big Night tells the story of two brothers who emigrate from Italy to open a Jersey Shore restaurant. But they’re having trouble getting their bistro, Paradise, off the ground. One brother gripes about having to cook Americanized Italian dishes and dreams about returning to Calabria while the other manages the finances and promotion — and gets involved with the wife of the more successful restaurateur next door.
Like Boiling Point, Big Night revolves around a single evening’s efforts to give the restaurant a good name, with a rival and a writer in attendance. The film was also an inspiration for Favreau’s Chef.
Big Night is available to stream on Showtime.
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