Young Nigel Slater (Freddie Highmore) has big culinary aspirations, even though all his mother (Victoria Hamilton) knows how to make is toast. When his mother dies, relations grow strained between Nigel and his father (Ken Stott), especially when he remarries a woman (Helena Bonham Carter) who wins his heart with a lemon meringue pie. Nigel enters culinary school, starts working in a pub and finds himself competing with his stepmother -- both in the kitchen and for his father's attention.
Adapted from the memoir Toast
by Nigel Slater.
Toast is the story of British food critic Nigel Slater's childhood. Nigel (played by two actors - newcomer Oscar Kennedy is the young Nigel, while Freddie Highmore from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory portrays the teenaged Nigel) is a young boy obsessed with food. He frequents the local shops to ogle the cuisine, he looks at pictures in cookbooks under his covers at night, and he tries to talk his mother into buying more than just canned food for them to eat. Unfortunately, his mother (British television actress Victoria Hamilton) is a hopeless cook, ruining even the most simple of meals, always resorting back to making toast, it being the only dish she can successfully prepare. Despite her kitchen ineptitude, Nigel loves his mom very much, and when she dies, leaving him alone with his stern but misunderstood father (Ken Stott from Charlie Wilson's War and Shallow Grave), he is understandably crushed. Nigel seizes the opportunity to connect with his father by cooking for him, a tactic that initially works, until Dad brings in a new cleaning lady named Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter from Fight Club and Alice in Wonderland). Not only is Mrs. Potter an amazing chef, but she has designs on Nigel's dad, and Nigel finds himself in a war for his father's attention that is fought with dinners, deserts and snacks.
Toast is a typical coming-of-age story about a boy who's not only struggling with growing up, but dealing with his uncertain sexuality (Nigel gives his milk to a boy who offers to show him his privates instead of a girl who will show him her underwear in elementary school, and elects to take Home Economics instead of Wood Shop in high school). It was adapted from Nigel Slater's memoirs by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), and it appears to be a genuine look at growing up in 1970's England. Television director S.J. Clarkson ("Dexter", "Life on Mars") takes the very serious issue of parental death and replacement and tackles it with a light heart and lots of wit. Toast is far from a comedy, but it's not as heavy of a film as one would expect from a director like Clarkson. What Toast delivers is a thoughtful, entertaining story about a young boy's efforts to win his father's love, and the obstacles he encounters when he realizes that his father is just as lonely as he is.
The camera work on Toast is both creative and engrossing. Director of Photography Balazs Bolygo (who shot episodes of "Doctor Who" and worked with Clarkson on "Life on Mars") uses his camera like a set of eyes, constantly in motion and directing the viewer's attention. The camera frequently will take a low angle to look up at a character when Nigel is crouched on the floor, and will often roll through the aisles of the stores while Nigel is wandering around. The camera motion is not jerky and quick, but rather very smooth and slick. The shots in Toast are meticulously planned out, and the extra effort is evident in the final product. It's easy to get lost in the cinematography, but, at the same time, it does not distract from the story. Between Bolygo's camera work and Clarkson's natural storytelling skills, Toast is a wonderful piece of filmmaking.
The real star of Toast is the food, and it looks good enough to eat. The art department, led by production designer Tom Burton and art director Tim Sykes, makes the food look perfect, whether it's supposed to be tasty or not. Nigel's mom's disasters at the beginning of the film are not suitable to be eaten by a dog, and they look every bit the part. In contrast, the edibles made between Nigel and Mrs. Potter while they compete for Dad's attention look delicious, whether it be a juicy glazed turkey, a scrumptious lemon meringue pie, or, well, just toast. The food is an integral part of the story, and it's much more than just a piece of set dressing or a group of props; it's a character in itself, and Toast does it sweet, sweet justice.
Drama, Comedy, Biography
October 21, 2011