Toast (Emerging Pictures, NR)

Toast is based on Nigel Slater’s memoirs of the time before he became one of Britain’s most renowned food writers. Things in the film might have happened exactly as they did in real life, but if they did, it’s proof that not everyone’s unedited life will make a good movie.

 

 

 
 
 
Stories about strained relationships between parents and their young children are a dime a dozen. None may focus more on food, though, than the story we get in Toast.
Nigel Slater (Oscar Kennedy) loves his mom (Victoria Hamilton) to bits. Her one fault in his eyes seems to be her complete lack of cooking skills. She boils canned goods in their containers and eschews Nigel’s gentle pleas for fresh vegetables by chastising him with cries of “we don’t know where that’s been.” Never mind that they have a garden out back filled with enough vegetables to require a gardener. (I would have loved an explanation for that.) Alas, the only meal Nigel’s mother has perfected is toast.
Nigel’s desire for some culinary diversity leads him to ooh and ahh over cookbooks the way many boys must ogle nudie magazines: under his covers, at night and by flashlight. When Nigel loses his mom to illness, his gruff dad (Ken Stott) takes over dinner duties. The sustenance situation only improves when Dad hires Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) to care for the house. There’s only one problem: Nigel hates Mrs. Potter.
Toast is based on Nigel Slater’s memoirs of the time before he became one of Britain’s most renowned food writers. Things in the film might have happened exactly as they did in real life, but if they did, it’s proof that not everyone’s unedited life will make a good movie.
I have a few problems with Toast, not the least of which is how the film depicts Mrs. Potter. As she vies to be the next Mrs. Slater (even though she is apparently already married), it’s completely understandable why Nigel would hate her. After all, Mom has only been gone a few months when Mrs. Potter begins to wiggle, tease, and cook her way into Dad’s heart.
The issue here is that the film clearly wants the audience to see Mrs. Potter as the Big Bad of the story, but she’s no villain. The woman is an opportunist, sure, but she’s not evil or even abusive to Nigel. All Mrs. Potter ever does is keep a spic and span house, darn socks, and prepare fantastic, elaborate dinners and desserts. And once Nigel (now played by Freddie Highmore) starts a home economics class in high school and the two begin to battle for Dad’s affections through cooking, it’s hard not to see him as a bit of an ungrateful brat.
Toast also has problems clearly defining Dad for us. I get the impression they were going for grumpy but loveable, but all we get is crotchety and unpredictable. For instance, Dad cries a good, long cry when Mom dies and tells Nigel that he’ll always love her, but while she was alive we saw no real evidence (other than the fact that he dutifully ate her awful cooking) of affection between them.
Dad only has a couple of warm moments with Nigel where he lets up on the boy. He’s incredibly fond of calling Nigel stupid and blaming him for things that aren’t his fault, and at both of those pivotal times of connection with his son we think Dad is going to finally soften. Yet he never does. In fact, Dad is much more of a villain than Mrs. Potter, because he gives all his affection to her, essentially leaving Nigel without the love of any parent.
I also think Toast spends too much time on the period before Nigel discovers his cooking class. The filmmakers squeeze a lot of interesting stuff into the last half-hour of the movie, effectively smothering all the cool, coming-of-age parts of Nigel’s life with a celluloid pillow. The real crime of Toast is that it doesn’t respect Nigel enough to spend more time watching him growing and learning to be happy, even when all the evidence of those things is already there. | Adrienne Jones

 

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