by Kelly Glover
||H.M. Coakley and Shana Stein|
|Dir. of Photography:
||Adrian Brody, Elise Neal, Lauryn Hill, Simon Baker Denny, David Moscow, Jesse L. Martin, Malcolm Jamal Warner|
This drama touches on the subject of racial tensions, substance abuse, homophobia and betrayal that surround the lives of a crew of employees at a popular New Jersey restaurant. The movie is centered around Chris, a white bartender/playwright on the brink of finishing his first project. Upon completion, the payoff for his semi-autobiographical script is promising but he's in denial about major issues in his life and it's preventing the award-winning ending he's capable of creating.
Initially, what seems to stall completion of the script is a conflict with his director over a former friend landing the lead role in his play. As the story progresses, the real issues come to light. He tries to convince himself and others that he's over his previous relationship and becomes involved with Janine, a new black waitress. Yet, she begins to question his motives when his actions don't convince her that their relationship is growing. His racially mixed group of friends use the "N" word frequently and although he considers himself nothing like his openly racist father, there is something about the word eating away at him. Plus, he's fallen off the wagon. It isn't until he actually sees his visibly pregnant ex-girlfriend Leslie (Lauyrn Hill) that he is forced to admit the impact she had over his life. And, when a close friend is murdered, an uncaring dishwasher named El Tariq bares the racial unease Chris has tried to ignore.
Malcolm Jamal Warner plays Chris, a waiter desperately wanting to become a bartender. He doesn't use the "labels" or language his co-workers use and is considered a sell-out by the other black kitchen staff because he refuses to believe that his skin color is the only reason he isn't behind the bar. It's good to see him in front of the camera again but merely hearing his voice makes you think, "Aw, it's just Theo" and you know he'll pull through in the end.
Although Lauryn Hill's character, Leslie, is not actually on screen very long, her spiritual nature had such an overwhelming impact on the lives of everyone that her presence is felt throughout the entire movie. Of course, it's a little hard to initially accept that Lauryn Hill had such a powerful relationship with a struggling, non-dred playwright but when she does appear on screen and reveals her character's admitted innocence, her performance takes your mind off the racial differences for the time being.
Chris's girlfriend can't win. She sees a picture of her man's beautiful ex-girlfriend every time she enters the kitchen; she discovers that she's actually paying rent to stay in the ex's old room; and everyone seems to compare her to Leslie. As if things aren't bad enough, her current man has a drinking problem and a former drug-using boyfriend is trying to re-enter the picture. Na•ve? Yes, but her character realizes that she has to concentrate on her budding singing career and that both she and Chris have things they need to work on before considering a "real" relationship.
The film also includes another interesting character. He's a line cook who uses the "n" word, smokes weed, hangs with white boys and isn't too concerned with how others perceive his actions because as he sees it, friendship shouldn't be based on color as much as people think it should.
Don't you hate when characters realize they have internal problems, they have a good cry and "poof", they're cured just in time for the credits? Not a problem in "A Restaurant". It was good to see familiar faces playing supporting roles in an "indie" project and their character's development was realistic. As the movie progresses, major characters recognize issues they need to deal with but just as in real life, change, if any, doesn't happen overnight.
Although lines like "you've got the most beautiful green eyes" coming from Chris's girlfriend drew uncomfortable sighs from the audience and "n" word discussions became a bit overdone, I thought "A Restaurant" provided a genuine look at issues people face as they develop relationships with people of diverse backgrounds. And, the struggling artist theme of this movie has the feel of what gave RENT such a great following.