A curious blend of romantic drama and political polemic, The Girl in the Cafe is a film that wins you over with the awkward chemistry shared by its lead actors but pulls away towards the climax with its strident call to arms. Penned by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) and directed by David Yates, this relatively lightweight effort establishes such goodwill with the first two-thirds that the jarring final act really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
The wildly underrated Bill Nighy stars as Lawrence, a somewhat meek, reclusive civil servant, who works for the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Ken Stott) and leads a relatively dull, uneventful life. Amid preparations for the upcoming
G-8 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland (a meeting which, among other things, will determine how to reduce extreme poverty in certain parts of the world), Lawrence chances upon Gina (Kelly Macdonald), a young Scottish woman, who takes a shine to the bureaucrat. The pair share a few meals and impulsively, Lawrence invites Gina to accompany him to Reykjavik. Only when their relationship begins to blossom does Gina's past begin to complicate her and Lawrence's future, placing him in an extremely tenuous professional position.
A sort of highly politicized riff on Lost In Translation, The Girl in the Cafe is admirable in its intention; Curtis's attempts at fusing his trademark witty characters with an urgent call to affect change doesn't wholly succeed, in part because when Gina ceases to be a person and becomes a mouthpiece for the screenwriter's views on global debt relief, it saps the film of its low-key, quietly effective charm. The fact that Curtis more or less narratively sabotages his May-December pair is maddening as Nighy and Macdonald generate an offbeat chemistry that is oddly engaging.
The Girl in the Cafe is a film that deserves wider recognition that it received but not necessarily for the message it trumpets (although the message certainly merits mention) – rather, it's a two-character piece that studies the quiet spaces between lonely people and the warmth generated when chance opens them up.
The Girl in the Cafe is presented in a fine-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (the HBO broadcast was non-anamorphic widescreen) that is crisp and free of defect, as befits a recently released film. The drab London offices and starkly beautiful Icelandic landscapes are equally well represented.
Dolby 2.0 stereo (in English and Spanish) is offered here – the soundtrack is largely dialogue-driven and not prone to sudden bursts of surround activity. As such, the film doesn't suffer from drop-out or distortion and all the intimate chatter comes through crystal clear.
The main attraction here is the amiable commentary track contributed by Curtis and Yates – Curtis unfortunately comes off as slightly pompous and annoyingly self-deprecating, while Yates occasionally sounds slightly frustrated. Overall, it's a worthwhile listen that sheds some light on the making of The Girl in the Cafe. Also included is a three-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, three minutes of deleted scenes in non-anamorphic, time-coded widescreen and the 60-second "One" video, which has aired as a commercial in the States, particularly around the recent Live 8 concerts.
The Girl in the Cafe is a winning, low-key romcom that's hijacked by a strident call-to-arms to eliminate extreme poverty – sadly, since Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald generate an odd but likable chemistry, making this an easy recommendation for rental or a blind buy for Nighy fans. Recommended.