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The story of a troubled Dublin romance between an Irish food writer and a Spaniard, The Food Guide to Love has all the right ingredients, and mixes them up into something enjoyable without being wholly satisfying. The second feature from Dominic Harari and Teresa de Pelegri, the directing tandem responsible for 2004’s diverting Only Human, Food is easy-to digest fare that will be gobbled up in the producing territories, with further Euro play a possibility for if the marketing’s done right: in PR terms, the cool sexy title itself is a good start.
A successful food writer with an eye for the ladies, Oliver (Richard Coyle) has been designed as a blend of Hugh Grant and Jamie Oliver: tousle-haired and chaotic in his personal affairs, he’s a sexual conquistador but a loser in love. The first scene does not bode well, as after a bit of daft business he finds himself naked by the River Liffey in Dublin, making excuses to Bibiana (bilingual Spanish actress Leonor Watling), who tends to fall for intelligent men who turn out bad, including her current boyfriend Fernando (Gines Garcia Millan).
From then on, the film luckily abandons low farce for something more rewarding as their stop-start relationship evolves, starting with a beautifully choreographed flour fight in the kitchen that’s messy and meaningful all at the same time. Their problems are rooted in the fact that while Oliver’s a plain speaking emotional dinosaur (“What’s wrong with zoos?” he innocently wonders), she’s more alternative, seeking the meaning of life in doleful art installations about the Irish potato famine and falling for a bearded, sweater-wearing political activist in the form of Padraig (David Wilmot).
The on-off relationship between Oliver and Bibiana feels lively enough and will ring all sorts of bells for people who’ve had to negotiate relationships across a cultural divide. The lively, vibrant Oliver is in some ways more “Spanish” than Bibiana, whose attitudes are more northern European — thankfully the film refuses to trade in the deathless stereotypes of say Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona — although some of Oliver’s insincerity appears spills over into Coyle’s performance. But problematically, some of the secondary roles, played by a mainly Irish cast, are richer and better-played than the primaries. Oliver’s unreconstructed Dad Eddie (Lorcan Cranitch) and more grounded friend Simon (Simon Delaney) are standouts, with the latter in particular bringing a gentle nuance to things that’s lacking elsewhere.
Co-director Pelegri was responsible for the script of the vastly entertaining Unconscious, and Food likewise seems to have been scripted with a ‘Film Guide to Freud’ close to hand. It’s is at its best when at its darkest, which basically means over its last fifteen minutes. Here Oliver’s repressed emotions come pouring messily out in a sequence that’s impressive in its excess and daring and which would have the Viennese shrink salivating: it’s totally mad but it works, and suggests a depth and emotional power that leaves stretches of what’s come before looking trite.
As an Irish-Spanish co-production, every opportunity is taken to make the film tourist-board friendly. Oliver became a food writer because he hated the family Irish stews: cue a couple of luscious scenes in praise of Spanish cuisine. Dublin itself is plausibly remodeled as city of riverside walks and alleyways where romance can prosper.
The soundtrack is a strange mix of really appealing, new folk fare with clumsy, signal-it-all themes that date back to the 60s. In its images of both cooking food and of love making, Andreu Rebes‘ glossy visuals have drawn on the high-gloss pastels of cooking manuals, while gorgeous inter-scene graphics add to the generally classy feel. The jokes occasionally fall as flat as the proverbial pancake: quite how one involving Darren Aronofsky was not red-lined is a mystery.
Production Companies: Tornasol Films, Parallel Films, Haut et Court
Producers: Mary Callery, Ruth Coady, Mariela Besuievsky, Carole Scotta
Executive producers: Gerardo Herrero, Alan Moloney
Cast: Richard Coyle, Leonor Watling, Simon Delaney, Lorcan Cranitch, Ger Ryan, Bronagh Gallagher, Gines Garcia Millan
Directors: Dominic Harari, Teresa de Pelegri
Screenplay: Harari, de Pelegri, Eugene O’Brien
Cinematographer: Andreu Rebes
Editor: Irene Blecua
Art director: Lucy Van Lonkhuyzen
Music: Ray Harman
Sound: Alberto Garcia Altez
Sales company: Fox International Productions
Unrated, 91 minutes
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