Today’s Special (2009): 1001 Recipes for Clichés

A sub-genre that has come into its own during the last decade or so is related to movies about food. Today’s Special was a bit of an avantgardist piece, followed by the likes of Chef (2014), The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) and Burnt (2015), to count a few off the top of my head. It’s most closely related to the Helen Mirren flick with Journey in the title, but actually fails to get a grip on itself for long enough to rise to even the average standards imposed there. So yes, I was disappointed.

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The story – stop me if anything sounds familiar – involves an Indian sous-chef, Samir, who is passed up on a promotion due to his excessive rigor, which arguably killed the improvisational magic required of a chef. So Samir decides to quit and contemplates traveling to Europe, to widen his repertoire. Before leaving, a quick visit to the parents, in particular his father, is in order. Surprisingly, or not, the family own the most run down Indian restaurant imaginable and the father is deeply disappointed by Samir’s life choices. His mother, meanwhile, is busy sending  him wife profiles from a dating website specializing in Indian couples. As the father suffers a bit of a heart attack, Samir is thrust into taking care of a dying business which is turned around by a previous chance encounter with Akbar, a taxi driver – chef – all around exceptional person. So Akbar comes in with his infinite wisdom of how cooking should come from here (the head) – here (the heart) – here (the stomache) and a little bit from here (well…). And Samir, who seems clueless as to cooking any Indian food, learns to reconnect with his roots. The platitudes and cliches just keep rolling, but I wouldn’t want to spoil all of them for you.

While I hate this kind of stereotyping, with “the spiritual Easterner” at the top of my list, it’s not even the film’s greatest fault. The first problem is that the important characters are unlikable. The second is that Samir’s lack of initiative is incomprehensible in the context. There’s no way any chef that half loves his job could have taken over a restaurant like the one portrayed here and remain so passive to how it looked, how it was run. The third is that the (happy) resolution put forward comes about without the lead having much merit in it at all. The implicit fourth is that the story elements don’t feel like they fall into place, but rather are forced to make up this journey of personal rediscovery. And lastly, there aren’t even any glorious shots of mouth watering food to take your mind off all the other incoherences.

Perhaps some of my complaints pertain to how I can’t accept the feel-good recipe. But there are a bunch of similar movies out there that do a good job in putting together a happy-go-lucky story which makes sense. Or at least convince you to suspend your disbelief. There are a few moments when Today’s Special manages to entertain, but they are too thinly spread. And, perhaps paradoxically, I did enjoy Aasif Mandvi’s dry portrayal of a run-down Samir, with the small caveat that it wasn’t fit in carrying the movie.

There must be stuff to like about David Kaplan’s second (and as of now last) feature length movie, yet I utterly failed to enjoy it. Sure, it digests easily, but there’s gotta be more to it than that.

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