Film Review: Off the Menu
By Rebecca Horrigan
Starring: Santino Fontana, Dania Ramirez, Makenzie Moss, Maria Conchita Alonso
For a foodie town like Santa Barbara, it’s no wonder our film festival has a “Screen Cuisine Sidebar” category showcasing cinematic feasts, such as director, Jay Silverman’s spicy new romantic comedy, Off the Menu.
“When we began developing Off the Menu, I was inspired by Michael Pollan’s novel ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ to show that food plays a huge role in our lives,” Silverman said.
Food certainly serves as the catalyst for love, drama, and even self-discovery in this film as our two lead actors and opposite ends of food philosophy are juxtaposed from the opening shots. Passionate chef, Javiera Torres (Dania Ramirez) is bathed in the sunny glow of her homey New Mexico kitchen, preparing a beautiful handmade meal and smiling down at her adorable daughter. Meanwhile, in Irvine, Joel Flanagan (Santino Fontana), is blending up a cold smoothie in his sterile home while bickering with his fiance who nurses a cup of coffee with a pout before dashing out on his bike to a job he detests. Joel’s training for a triathalon, which seems to be the only thing he cares about.
Although he is the heir to his father’s fast food fortune at Tortilla Hut (eerily reminiscent of the Taco Bell corporate headquarters in Irvine), Joel is entirely checked out. He refers to the food as “junk” and can’t be bothered to change out of his biking spandex before heading into the office. Joel’s sister convinces him to head out to New Mexico in order to find an “authentic” dish that will please their audience’s need for artisan food, save their company’s name, and guarantee his inheritance.
Javiera runs the only restaurant in her small town of Villanueva, Mexico, and her homegrown green chile peppers, which bring in foodies from near and far, have made her dishes the talk of the region. As a single mother, Javiera is intensely committed to her family and to her creative cooking which sustains their livelihood and binds their community. Joel and Javiera clash at first as Joel tries to knock down her walls but his goofy immaturity keeps getting in the way. Things heat up as they enjoy the often make or break activity of cooking together, she makes him her signature dish, and he gains her trust. Joel not only begins to like Mexican food, he starts to discover a world outside himself. Conflict brews as Joel finds himself pulled between stealing her recipe for the livelihood of his company or pursuing this new, more authentic life.
Filmed in New Mexico, shots of the warm landscape and vivid fields appear as appetizing as Javiera’s artfully prepared dishes. For a fun, light, and whimsical adventure, Off the Menu satisfies. Just be sure to visit one of Santa Barbara’s lovely taqueria’s afterward for a full experience.
Off the Menu will be showing on Saturday, February 3 from 5:20 pm - 6:56 pm at Metro 4 Theatre 2. The film will also be On Demand starting February 6.