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Magnolia Home Entertainment // PG-13 // April 18, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
There are many different forms of art, and film is included in this category. Many documentaries and some narratives follow artists and their pursuit of perfection. While some of these expressions are put front and center, other forms rarely get representation on the big screen. There are some features that display the culinary arts, although rarely in a narrative form. There is a lot of material that has occurred over time that filmmakers can draw from. Just like any other art form, a chef's food menu is similar to the canvas of a painter. They continue to make changes in order to achieve the perfect menu that shows who they ar. Often times, these chefs dedicate their entire lives to the culinary arts. Unfortunately, Tasting Menu is a motion picture from Spain that doesn't remain consistent through each course.
The best restaurant in the world is run by Mar (Vicenta N'Dongo), who has decided to close it at the peak of its success. Customers book reservations over a year in advance, making it the most exclusive dining experience.Tasting Menu follows a group of people who were lucky enough to book the restaurant's final night. Rachel (Claudia Bassols) and Marc (Jan Cornet) made these reservations before they were separated. However, nobody is willing to miss the event, making for one of the most strenuous nights in culinary history.
The first act quickly begins building on what is to come by showing Mar on a talk-show and almost all of the attendees getting ready for this very special night. This is when writers Javier Calvo and Roger Gual genuinely attempt to bring out the laughs. You might not find yourself laughing out loud very often, but there is a certain charm to the wit being utilized here. The dialogue is quick and funny enough to deliver an enjoyable experience. Each character appears to have his or her own personality with the possibility for further disposition. Unfortunately, we never learn too much about the characters. Once things start to go wrong, it's quite difficult to feel for them, since it feels like we barely know them. A few brief introductions aren't enough to make us feel as if we're able to relate to these roles. Perhaps Calvo and Gual should have focused their sights on a smaller number of these characters and taken the time to develop them. Once the filmmakers allow the more comedic elements to fall by the wayside, we're left with a bunch of characters we're barely acquainted with.
Tasting Menu switches gears for the remainder of the running time. Instead of focusing on the humor, it transforms into more of a drama. Fortunately, there is still a small amount of humor that remains throughout the running time, thanks to Isao Kamiyama (Togo Igawa), Yoshio Takamura (Akihiko Serikawa), and Mina (Marta Torné). Without this group, it would have been much more difficult for director Roger Gual to keep the pace moving smoothly. The further that we get into the dinner, the more personal issues that are revealed. Depending on who the filmmakers are focusing on, you'll have completely different feelings about them. When you're following those such as Rachel, it's incredibly difficult to connect with her, leaving all of her material feeling superficial. However, Countess D'Arcy (Fionnula Flanagan) is quite easy to sympathize with. She's a quick-witted woman who observes the drama and chimes in, rather than having it all revolve around her. It's quite easy to recognize that there is a lot more to this character than what we're seeing, and it would have been better to learn more about her. From what we do know about her past, it simply makes it easier to connect with her. There are some pretty decent characters scattered amongst some of the irritating ones, but they never seem to mesh. The story tries to create this bonding experience, yet it still feels like we're being held at a distance.
Since nearly the entire film takes place within the restaurant during one particular night, the cast is only made up of those within the walls of the establishment. However, this is still a lot of characters, especially when the writers try to give attention to each and every one of them. Claudia Bossols does a solid job in the role of Rachel. While I never connected to the character, the material appears to be at fault rather than her. However, Jan Cornet's representation of Marc outperforms much of her delivery. He feels a lot more natural on screen. Cornet doesn't receive as much screen time as she does, but he surely keeps our attention. Fionnula Flanagan is witty and charming as Countess D'Arcy. Her delivery makes for some decent comedy, yet she's able to carefully handle each of the more dramatic scenes with a sense of elegance. This is a rather strong performance that truly enhances the character. Togo Igawa, Akihiko Serikawa, and Marta Torné are quite entertaining as Isao Kamiyama, Yoshio Takamura, and Mina, respectively. They are found sitting at the same table for the majority of the evening, offering some pretty funny material. Torné's energy allows Igawa and Serikawa to provide some great reactions. None of the performances are necessarily bad, but some are certainly better than others.
With such a unique concept for a narrative motion picture, Tasting Menu had the tools to make something smart and well-crafted. Writers Javier Calvo and Roger Gual offer humorous dialogue through the first act, but their transition to the more dramatic elements is sloppy. There are simply too many characters to have the time to develop each and every one of them to the point where audiences will be able to connect with them. Perhaps they should have narrowed their focus more on the central characters and took more time to craft them. However, Fionnula Flanagan is a pleasant surprise as Countess D'Arcy. This performance is consistently enjoyable. This film is a lot less about the culinary arts, and more about the relationships that are formed by the love of food. While not a disaster, this dramedy could have been a lot better. Tasting Menu is ambitious, but it isn't quite seasoned up to par. Rent it.