Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Opens locally Friday, October 14th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Ken Stott, Victoria Hamilton, Helena Bonham Carter, Oscar Kennedy, Freddie Highmore
Directed by SJ Clarkson (feature film debut, TV direction includes Heroes, Ugly Betty, Dexter, House)
Nigel Slater is a famous food writer, journalist, and broadcaster, and the new film “Toast” is based on his memoirs. It’s a British dramedy made all the more interesting by the unique direction of SJ Clarkson, an experienced television director making her leap into feature length films. Let me say, it was a very graceful and daring jump, executed with the confidence of a veteran filmmaker.
Nigel’s mother, let’s just say, is not a good cook. She boils cans of food in a pot of water, and to say that she doesn’t know her way around a kitchen would be the understatement of the year. Often , Nigel would end up just eating toast, after several attempts at dinner failed miserably.
When his mother becomes sick, Nigel steps up and tries desperately to please his hard-nosed father, played by Ken Stott. Nigel is given Harry Potter-like grief from his dad, who calls him stupid and just doesn’t seem to give young Nigel much-needed affection. When the father becomes attracted to the new housemaid, Nigel sees this new woman as a threat for his father’s affection. Worst of all, she is an amazing cook, and if he is ever going to win back his father’s love, Nigel will need to up his game quite drastically.
There is a visual style to “Toast” that makes it stand out as a quirkily unique film. It is also laugh-out-loud funny. But most surprising of all, it is a sad drama, especially the middle third of the film. At first, this shift in tone was a bit jarring, but credit goes to director SJ Clarkson for balancing the comedy with the humanity. To make a cooking analogy, “Toast” seems to have the perfect mix of ingredients, and is an enjoyable treat to partake of.
The father is all at once intimidating, and yet loving. Helena Bonham Carter is right at home playing a loony and overly competitive woman, who at the same time does love the father. Nothing rings false in this film, except maybe the jump in age when Nigel goes from being portrayed by Oscar Kennedy to the older Freddy Highmore. We see that to Nigel, food is almost orgasmic…he would rather serve somebody a meal than pretty much anything else…he takes the old saying, “food is the way to a man’s heart” and lives by it, quite literally.
“Toast,” like the film “Submarine” from earlier this year, carves a niche for itself as a unique adult film told from the point of view of a child. I knew nothing about Nigel Slater going in, and wasn’t compelled to find out much more, but the time spent taking in “Toast” was deeply satisfying.
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