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    Cook's tour

    "Restaurant" takes a rare look behind the scenes in a busy Hoboken eatery and pushes its characters across the racial divide.


    "Restaurant" opens with Chris (Adrien Brody) making an idiot of himself on the phone from his darkened Hoboken apartment in the middle of the night, and the camera dollies from inside the apartment right out the window to a shot of majestic Manhattan across the river. There are a million stories in the big city, we understand from the start — and this isn't one of them. These are the people who live in the shadow of New York's fame and fortune.

    Directed by: Eric Bross.
    Written by: Tom Cudworth.
    Cast: Adrien Brody, Elise Neal, David Moscow, Simon Baker, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Lauryn Hill.
    Cinematography: Horacio Marqu’nez.

    Related links: Official site
    The film revolves around a busy Hoboken restaurant (two doors away from's palatial offices!) and the lives of the actors, singers, writers and working-class twenty-somethings who keep it running. At the center of the ensemble is the young playwright-bartender Chris (played by Brody before he became well known for "The Thin Red Line" and "Summer of Sam"), who is linked in various ways to each of the other major characters.

    His buddy Reggae (David Moscow) is a cook who spends his free time getting high and visiting prostitutes to avoid the complications of a girlfriend. Kenny (Simon Baker) is a pretty-boy actor-waiter who irritates Chris — all the moreso after he lands the lead in Chris' new semi-autobiographical play. His co-worker Steven (the "Cosby" show's Malcolm-Jamal Warner) is a diligent waiter who aspires to be a bartender but faces an unstated racial barrier. And he takes a special interest in the lovely Jeanine (Elise Neal), a black waitress-singer who worries that Chris is after her only because she reminds him of his previous girlfriend (played by the uncredited Lauryn Hill).

    Of these plot elements, the only one that clunks is the romance, which inexplicably finds our reasonably modern protagonists working through some implausibly Victorian issues. All of the plot threads, though, seem secondary to the overall exploration of two wider themes, which is where the film really succeeds: black-white relationships and restaurant culture.

    The restaurant's racial (and sexual) dividing line is quickly evident: black men in the kitchen, white women in the dining area and a white man behind the bar. But the film concerns itself particularly with what happens when people start crossing those lines — a pretty black woman in the dining area, an ambitious black man trying to get behind the bar, a white cook who's most comfortable with the black guys in the kitchen. Among themselves, the workers seem mostly friendly without regard to race — sign of a generational evolution, perhaps — but within the workplace they largely adapt to the divide.

    There have been several indie films in the last few years about actors working in restaurants — but they've focused on the characters as actors more than as restaurant workers. This film moves in the opposite direction, looking from the restaurant outward, showing the personal dynamics and the mad hustle that go on behind the closed doors of the kitchen and the prim outfit of the server. Diners, you've been warned.

    JANUARY 30, 2000

    Reader comments on Restaurant:

  • Restaurant   from Keshia E., Feb 7, 2011

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