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September 17, 2012: “Toast” (2010)

September 17, 2012

I take it for granted that most of the movies in the DVD collection at the library have been found to have some flaw by the people who donated them. Probably the most common reason for donating them is to make room for the new DVD purchases. Still, these movies must have been found lacking in some way, by the donators. So, I play this game that I call “find the flaw” as I view them.

I was thrilled to find a new-ish “indie-foodie” (my most favorite category of cinema) in the library’s collection called “Toast” (2010) by director S.J. Clarkson, a biography about early life of British food writer Nigel Slater.

Poor Nigel has a rough childhood. He has an inherit sensitivity to, and desire for, fine food, but is condemned to have a mother (although very sweet and caring) that has absolutely no clue how to prepare even the most simple dish. His voice over, states what every child knows, “When you are deprived of something, it just makes you all the more hungry for it.” It doesn’t help that his father has a very surly nature, “Not a sweet man, despite a very sweet tooth.” Mr. Slater is clearly not getting much sugar (both literal and metaphoric) from his wife, probably exacerbating his surliness. With Nigel’s pleading, his mother tries to make the dishes he craves, usually with disastrous results. Her default dish after these failures is toast, which oddly, despite its simplicity, Nigel finds satisfying, “No matter how bad things get, it’s hard not to love someone who has made you toast.” Nigel pleads with his mom to teach him to make mince-pie for Christmas, but she is ill and it is a race against time…a race that ultimately is lost.

Enter Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) first as a cleaner but who slowly wins over the father with her very good cooking skills, earthiness and attractiveness. Dad finally has all the sugar he wants, but Nigel finds her “common” and can’t stand her. He can’t help but admit that she is a superior chef, but that just starts a rivalry between the two over the father’s affections with food as the weapon selected by the duelists.

I loved the setup of “Toast” as period piece about food and personalities and it certainly has some very fine moments. I loved the “tossing the mom’s sandwich” scene (something I have been guilty of, with my mom’s sandwiches.) The “grade school milk line” and the “food-porn” scenes I found to be just hilarious! “Toast” has a few very well-rounded and interesting side characters. I liked Nigel’s advising childhood friend and the young gardener Josh, who both sets the tone of the value of a life well-spent and explains the love of a garden in way that I have never heard before. The big surprise in acting came from child actor Oscar Kennedy as the young Nigel. In contrast, Freddie Highmore, himself having been a very good child actor, phones in his performance as the teen-age Nigel. Helena Bonham Carter does a superb job playing an unlikeable character (or is she…truly unlikable?) After viewing…feel free to talk amidst yourselves.

I found “Toast” to be very frustrating in one aspect. My group of friends’ nickname for this kind of film is an “effin-pint-o’-stiffy” after one of us saw “Trainspotting” a number of years ago. Our friend said that because of the accents, those were the only words she could make out in the entire film! I question any filmmaker, these days, not including subtitles! I want to catch every nuance of the spoken word of a film. A film with rich accents and period or colloquial words needs to be subtitled!

Where “Toast” absolutely shines is its use of the idea of food creation as expression of ones soul. Even amongst the characters that don’t have the skill to express themselves this way, somehow give meaning to this…and those that have it to the extreme, do not always choose to express their soul in the right way.

“Toast” also influenced me in a way that I never expected…but that is for another day…another article.

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One comment

  1. Loved the movie…just saw it this past week

    made your Vichyssoise soup today.

    Can’t wait to have it!!!

    xo. Kath and Rob Avery Sent from MI6 – London Branch



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