For those of us who never go out to indulge in haute cuisine, the desperation that director Philip Barantini brings to this study of a particularly bad night-in-the-life of a restaurant owner-chef isn’t going to make as much of an impression as he might expect, but we can definitely appreciate that the protagonist is, despite his culinary talents, in way over his head as a businessman, and that’s what keeps the movie intriguing rather than its technical virtuosity (supposedly all done in one take) and relentless pace. Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) is an excellent chef who started out at the bottom and doggedly worked his way up. He has a keen understanding of how you get people in a kitchen to do what you want because he was once in their place. But he is heavily in debt to the backers of his relatively new restaurant, a situation that, apparently, has destroyed his marriage and his peace of mind. As we first encounter Andy, hustling through the streets of London on his way to work, he is trying to communicate with his ex-wife over his cell phone about a problem involving his young son that needs attention immediately, but since he’s late and it’s the Friday night before Christmas, the work takes priority.
What follows is a whirlwind of circumstance and crossed signals, as Andy supervises a full staff of people who trust him as one of theirs but who also know what the food service business requires of you. Consequently, every small problem snowballs into a catastrophe, especially when passing through the interface between the kitchen and the dining area. The latter realm is populated by a careful selection of the types that give “dining out” a bad name: smarmy self-important critics, influencers who overestimate their actual influence, and persons with money who think of service as being absolute and unconditional. The maitre’d is thus more than the face of the establishment. He’s the negotiator-in-chief, and while Barantini places too much of a dramatic burden on the wait staff in their dealings with a fickle clientele, he successfully shows how their frustrations are transferred to the kitchen, where Andy has to translate specific orders into meals. And while a chef is really more of an organizer than an artist, Andy is so put upon by the demands of both customers and employees that you can see him fail in real time.
Boiling Point is not a movie for anyone with acute anxiety issues, even if some of its most important plot points—a food allergy screwup turns into a disaster of Biblical proportions—feel contrived. But both Barantini and Graham generate an atmosphere where the personal and the professional are inextricably linked in a visceral way. This really is Andy’s life, and while some of us who think of food as sustenance first wouldn’t normally take the monumental struggles depicted here that seriously, there are real people of lesser means who depend on this kind of business to maintain their existence, and Barantini gives them his full attention. The fact that the production is all too-much-too-fast is probably the point: This is what front-line workers have to put up with, so you should abide.
Opens July 15 in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).
Boiling Point home page in Japanese
photo (c) MMXX Ascendant Films Limited