Monday, November 21, 2011

Toast (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The consumption and enjoyment of food is one of the basic drives we all share. It is a crucial need and very primal. But until I saw "Toast", the recent film based on the memoir of the famous chef personality Nigel Slater, I never thought of food as a weapon of psychological warfare.
Seeing is believing. Food can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be either a harbinger of comfort wrapped in flaky pie crust, or in the wrong hands, a horror of mental and sensual anguish flayed raw and pale, arriving on any dinner plate.

Such is the duality of life: the undercooked and the burned to death from the sublime to the disgusting. "Toast" the film, illustrates both extremes and you are not likely to forget the taste of this bouncy but honest film, laced with black humor like unsweetened chocolate.

Little Nigel Slater (Oscar Kennedy) is at his wits end. Although he loves his mother very much ( Victoria Hamilton) he can't stand her cooking. She cooks solely from cans and boxes. He dreams of fresh produce like something from an exotic jungle, colorful jewels of variety and nutrition that are beyond him. 

Nigel goes to bed looking at glossy cookbooks, ogling with pleasure at standard comfort foods with a sexual intensity. The only way he can feel his mother's touch through food is by the munching of toast: the one unprocessed thing his mom prepares. Nigel describes the toast like an event. Warm, crisp and buttery, the crunch sounds like a maternal kiss or a protective hug, insulating him from the loud vitriol  of his father.

With the abrupt death of his mother, Nigel is convinced his father doesn't like him. Nigel sees the preparation of good food as a way to earn his father's respect and to battle against his father's new love interest, the flighty but domestically decisive Mrs Potter. (Helena Bonham Carter)   

The battle begins with food as the ammunition to win one father's heart.
Never have I seen the concept of food used in such a direct and unsentimental way as in this film. It is shown both as a vehicle for negative manipulation and bonding love. A lemon meringue pie is more diabolical than the apple of Eden.

There is a touch of Roald Dahl here too. Nigel, as a British schoolboy, watches from a window as Mrs. Potter cleans up his vomit as he is lactose intolerant. Nigel smiles with glee. And as he works away in his room, poring over studies for the perfect pie, might he just put in a certain something to make his father's friend just feel a little woozy? He never does, but from the look in his eye it's safe to say the wheels were turning.

Even though the British setting is Beatle-esque and seems like it could be the visual equivalent of the song "Penny Lane, the film is not sticky sweet. Children are shown as lascivious amorals who will do anything for a jug of rich cream, but their irreverent gluttony is never mean spirited. These school kids are just shown as they really are: self centered creatures who are willing to do anything for gustatory pleasure. As a young adult, Nigel (Freddie Highmore) knows cooking is his only escape from the claustrophobic home of his father.

"Toast" will stay with you long after dessert. It is smooth on the eyes and direct in its narrative, showing the power and chemistry of food upon a family's emotional well being. A towering meringue that resembles the bow of The QE2  can  either pull the family apart or unite it together, just as a new girlfriend can either be a loving stepmother or a sensual and wicked queen who overbearingly cooks with kindness.

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