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Alice (Shirley Henderson), a 30ish aspiring writer, after arriving late for her job as a kitchen hand in the Stella Bar restaurant in London's Soho, is reluctantly agrees to take on the cooking job for the night, persuaded by 28 year old Maitre D', Madonna (Anna Maxwell Martin). That's just the start of a series of conversations and chaos over the course of the evening as the two waitresses - aspiring 30 year-old actress, Abi (Neve Campbell) and 24 year old art student, Suzie (Alexandra Maria Lara), as well as the 48 year old dishwasher, Rita (Oana Pellea) - become entangled in each other's personal problems. But Abi's excitement grows as one of her favourite stars, Danny Huston, has a booking for a table of four at 9pm.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Even if you've never worked in a restaurant (and I have), you'd quickly sense that there is an absence of credibility in the screenplay, when kitchen hand Alice (Shirley Henderson) arrives late ... and promptly asks a colleague to make her a coffee while she sits down at a table for a cigarette. The film has hardly started and we're thrown out the door... Unfortunately a lack of genuine observation continues to dog the film throughout and despite excellent performances, it's all 'pretend'. Scenes of kitchen chaos seem manufactured and thrust into the episodic structure to ensure we get to see Alice deteriorating under the pressure, burning and bashing and cutting herself, sometimes arguing sometimes suffering in silence.

But it's not her story: indeed, we're not sure whose story it is. Is it lovely Suzie (Alexandra Maria Lara) who is the most normal, balanced and likeable of the bunch? Or the put-upon young manageress Madonna (Anna Maxwell Martin), who tries modern techniques (eg the hug) to deal with age old problems (eg tantrums). Or perhaps the oldest woman in the place, Rita (Oana Pellea) who takes on kitchenhand duties, chasing the rats, occasionally dusting the aircon duct and smoking herself into resignation as she bemoans the loss of her lover?

Also bemoaning such loss is Abi (Neve Campbell), whose 30th birthday is proving traumatic, after repeated rejection slips via email from her boyfriend, and a failure to get any acting work, a sense of worthlessness takes over, made worse by being offered a porn movie gig. In protest at her life, she undresses between the diners and makes a speech about her plight. This rather tame nude scene has an anticlimactic effect and fails to ignite the mood.

Yet some of the ingredients are indeed juicy and good material for a multiple character drama. The script, however, can't juggle the elements (nor the characters) without making them all seem frivolous and unconnected. The tone changes faster than the menu, from farce to sitcom to drama to silly ... and finally to an attempt at magic realism as the filmmakers play their trump card - the Danny Huston trick. Sadly, not even a suave Danny can save this movie from ennui.

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(UK, 2007)

CAST: Neve Campbell, Shirley Henderson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Anna Maxwell Martin, Oana Pellea, Danny Huston, Andrew Higgie

PRODUCER: Alan Greenspan, Andrew Higgie, Matthew Justice, Dominic Saville

DIRECTOR: Oliver Parker

SCRIPT: Jennifer Higgie


EDITOR: Mary Finlay

MUSIC: Charlie Mole


RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes



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