Case Number 07806: Small Claims Court

THE GIRL IN THE CAFE

HBO // 2005 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 17th, 2005

The Charge

"We have a pair of unfortunate situations. A man who has nothing in his life except his work, that is unfortunate. And then by a stroke of bizarre chance, he finds someone who makes that not true for a day or two. But then, suddenly it seems as though the price that has to be paid for that ray of light is some sort of disgrace. It doesn't seem quite fair."
-- Bill Nighy as Lawrence, the aforementioned man

The Case

Actually, there are two lonely people in this movie made for HBO and the BBC. As you've probably guessed from the title, they meet in a café, and you can tell right away they each need someone. As Lawrence, Bill Nighy (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Shaun of the Dead) has elegant mannerisms, but his head moves about as he looks around while he talks. Gina (Kelly Macdonald, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Gosford Park) leans her head on her hand, looks down as she talks, and plays with her hair. Both talk hesitantly, with stutters. They even discuss dating, at least in the abstract, as he mentions that the Marks and Spencer department store is a dating hot spot (or so he's heard). Only as he is rushing off does he introduce himself, get her name, and ask for a second meeting, nervously fumbling with his schedule book as he does so.

"It was lovely sitting directly opposite you," Lawrence says.

What would set this apart and make it more than your ordinary bittersweet romantic comedy about two lost souls? That's right. You guessed it. An upcoming G-8 Summit in Iceland. Lawrence is a civil service drone, busily working on preparations for an event everyone associates with comic hijinks. He arrives at lunch, late, even though his handlers would prefer he work through it. Gina's "scrubbed up" for her lunch date, with her hair done and a new blouse, while Lawrence is his same old self. The lunch date gets better when his co-workers arrive, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Ken Stott, King Arthur), who drops by the table to tell him to keep it short. The obedient Lawrence does, and it's back to work, as his co-workers discuss the beautiful woman he was with.

Back to normal life for Lawrence: sitting home alone, eating in front of the telly. He asks Gina out for Thai, and gets even more impulsive when he gets home, inviting her to the G-8 Summit in Iceland. "I'm relatively senior, and we're allowed to bring wives...and suchlike," he explains. In real life, of course, any woman who isn't steaming enough to melt Iceland at the concept of the G-8 Summit as a romantic getaway would explode when her would-be paramour referred to her as "suchlike." But a movie about a rejected bureaucrat going to the G-8 Summit alone and depressed would be awfully dull, though more realistic. So, naturally, she says "yes." Uh-oh! Watch out, Lawrence!

In Iceland, we get the usual romantic complications. Since the hotel's booked solid, Lawrence and Gina have to share a room. "Oh, God, it's a double bed," he says, even trying to see if the bed will split apart. It won't. The next morning, he's in the elevator with a colleague:

Lawrence: "It's not what you think. I know she walked behind me in a bra, as it were, but there's absolutely nothing going on between us."

Colleague: "Why would it worry you if I thought there were?"

Lawrence: "I don't know. I suppose I'd fear you'd think less of her if she was with me."

We also get the unusual romantic complications, the sort Aaron Sorkin stuffed into "The American President." Lawrence tells her about his pet project, preventing world hunger -- a project that's doomed to failure. "At the current rate, the world might be a slightly better place in 159 years, by which time I'll be 216," he explains. "What it is, is a big, very polite, battle, with too much at stake." He doesn't know how much until he's at dinner with the Chancellor, and Gina pipes up: "I don't believe for a moment that people in our country would want you to represent their interests if you were doing it instead of talking about saving the lives of millions and millions of children who will certainly die next year if you all don't sort things out." After a couple further clashes, the Chancellor refers to Gina as a "lunatic protester," and wants her out of the Summit hotel. Lawrence is getting the feeling that he will soon follow.

The movie works because of Nighy and Macdonald. They have a natural charm that Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, with their star power and standing, couldn't match in similar situations. As Lawrence, the tall actor is constantly making himself small, trying to fade into the woodwork. Macdonald gets some improbable, heavy-handed speeches as Gina (who would have been humiliated into silence very quickly in real life). Still, she makes a drab character shine, alternately chastened and feisty as she deals with the G-8 crowd.

Technically, the transfer is perfect, with the rare glimpses of Icelandic scenery crisp, despite weather problems that are mentioned on the commentary track. Even the hotel hallways look dramatic. The sound's clear as a bell, especially noticeable with the accents, in all but the deleted scenes.

In the commentary, writer Richard Curtis gives some sage advice: don't learn proper act structure if you're writing movies, and slip in the politics in a backhanded way. The "Behind The Scenes" featurette is nothing more than an extended HBO promo. There are only a few deleted scenes, as you'd expect with a fast film shoot, and those were judiciously removed.

Not guilty, even though a real G-8 Summit couldn't cure anything other than the global insomnia problem. Case dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2005 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 89

Perp Profile
Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Audio Commentary with Writer Richard Curtis and Director David Yates
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Deleted Scenes

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0443518/combined