Step Up to the Plate (G) – 2 stars
DIRECTOR PAUL LACOSTE
REVIEW SHANNON HARVEY
You’ll like this if you liked Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Eat Drink Man Woman, Mostly Martha, Ratatouille.
If you love food, there are plenty of great food movies to get you salivating. Take a dash of Mostly Martha, for instance (or its Hollywood adaptation No Reservations), where a simple but perfect plate of spaghetti — with fresh parmesan and basil leaves — helps a little girl grieving over the loss of her mother. Add a sprinkle of Ratatouille, where a perfectly seasoned serve of the pauper’s dish itself takes a cold-hearted food critic back to his childhood.
And finish off with Ang Lee’s early film, Eat Drink Man Woman, where a master Taiwanese chef cooks for his three feisty daughters. It’s a food-lover’s film de jour, from the way Master Chu blows down the neck of a dead duck to ensure the crispiest skin possible to the five-tiered lunch box he prepares for the little girl next door (making her classmates jealous and hungry).
If your mouth is watering just reading this, then I’d like to say you should step quickly towards Step Up to the Plate, which follows the delicate handing of the reins from father to son at their three-Michelin-star French restaurant, Bras.
Alas, the film fails to step up to the plate itself. The narrative barely peels the surface of their relationship and the lengthy shots of their micro-food preparation leave you wanting to run out and sink your teeth into a big fat juicy burger.
Director Paul Lacoste begins with a close-up of a plate as an eclectic mix of fresh ingredients are added — leaves, flowers, berries, nuts, herbs and rose petals. It’s more a work of art than a gourmand’s dream.
Lacoste then follows veteran chef Michel Bras and his son Sebastian as they go about their daily chores. Both are as picky about their food selections as they are quietly competitive with each other. We then go inside the kitchen of their hillside eatery in southern France, as father and son agonise over the preparation and arrangement of a complex new dish.
Interviews with family members and childhood photos of their first restaurant reveal precious little detail as to what drives Michel or Sebastian, and it’s hard to know who’s at fault. Are father and son simply an undynamic duo who let their cooking do the talking? Or does Lacoste not know how to draw more intimate, revealing stories from them?
Either way, both come off as cold fish who share precious little with the camera. Their wives, parents and children are more giving. But, even then, few have anything interesting to say about the passing of the baton that is about to change their lives.
Worse still, we’re given precious little about the restaurant itself, how Michel built it, or what led to him earning those precious Michelin stars. A trip to Japan to oversee the opening of Bras in Toya sees little more than Sebastian preparing a Japanese spin on his signature dish.
Undercooked, under-prepared and fatally un-seasoned, Step Up to the Plate leaves you hungry for more.
Step Up to the Plate opens today.