David Prendeville chews over The Food Guide to Love, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.
Oliver (Richard Coyle), a successful celebrity chef, is far less successful in his love life largely due to his treatment of women. He can never have a relationship that lasts longer than six months mainly because he is a selfish, shallow misogynist. After Oliver is thrown out of one relationship along comes fiery Bibiana (Leonor Watling). They begin a tentative relationship that eventually turns into something very serious for both of them. But can it last? While Bibiana is interested in politics and art, Oliver seems only to care about himself and food. Oliver encountering an old crush from primary school in Georgina (Jade Yourell) and Bibiana’s interest in a political activist (David Wilmot) adds further complications to proceedings.
This light, silly romantic comedy attempts to recall classic screwball comedies, not least, in the admirable feistiness of its lead female character. The film struggles tonally, particularly initially, as it attempts to translate this type of comedy onto its Irish setting. Early scenes between Coyle and Watling jar somewhat. The film’s major flaw, however, lies with the fact that the lead character Oliver is such a deeply unlikeable character. In a film with as broadly comic a sensibility as this there is something that doesn’t sit right about having such a deplorable male lead. To be fair, the film-makers do establish a certain depth to his character towards the end in an emotional scene involving his father, which is heartfelt and well-played. However by the end of the film you don’t really feel as if there has been any great change in the character’s outlook or behaviour. The film lacks the sardonic or cynical edge required to pull off having these sorts of moral complexities to its characters.
The dislikeable nature of the lead character and his actions lead to some bizarre, supposedly comic scenes such as him being tempted to cheat on Bibiana by a woman completely smeared in chocolate. The aftermath of this scene in which Bibiana discovers Oliver’s chocolate smeared clothes does not know whether it wants to be moving or funny and it ends up being neither. While the idea of consistently relating the film’s events and it’s themes to food, given that food is only thing Oliver possibly loves more than himself, is not a bad idea the film-makers struggle to use it in the right way. Is the food motif supposed to be comic? Or is there supposed to be some weight (pardon the pun) to the relating of Oliver’s obsession with food ton that of his love life? As the film progresses, food becomes a means of power struggle in Oliver and Bibiana’s relationship, with her becoming a vegetarian. Once again, while this could have been an interesting idea it ends up feeling forced and rather inconsequential.
The emphasis on food also lead to some scenes which simply misfire- a recurring joke about Oliver’s father’s coddle- is more disgusting than it is funny. Nevertheless there are things to commend in the picture. Dublin is beautifully photographed throughout. The directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri bring a foreign eye to the city and it’s nice to see such a modern, progressive depiction of Dublin on screen. There are some enjoyable supporting turns from Wilmot, Simon Delaney and Bronagh Gallagher. It is also pleasing to see that in an age in which the romantic comedy is such an unfashionable genre in the cinema that filmmakers are, at least, attempting to go back to basics and call to mind a style of filmmaking in the screwball comedy that is all too rarely visible in the modern era.
For viewers hungry for something substantial this film is unlikely to satisfy but it has the odd ingredient worth savouring.
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The Food Guide to Love screened on Monday, 17th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).