One look at his ever-expanding waistline proves that Judge Josh Rode would never pass up a piece of cake.
What is food to one, is to others bitter poison.—Lucretius
Writer/director Henry Jaglom's Eating can't be easily summarized because it doesn't have a true narrative. It plays more like a documentary than an actual film. At its simplest, the film is about a birthday party for three women born ten years apart who share the same birth date. Sadie (Marlena Giovi, I Don't Buy Kisses Anymore), a lower-tier Hollywood agent, is turning 50 and beginning to lose clients to bigger names. Helene (Lisa Richards, Last of the Romantics) is turning 40 and trying to schedule an intimate dinner later that night with her husband, who keeps delaying the time he will return from a business trip. Kate (Mary Crosby, Dallas) is turning 30 and seems to have a perfect life. But if it's so perfect, why does she keep expressing doubts about her marriage?
The triple birthday party is accompanied by all their friends, which creates a one-stop-shopping opportunity for French filmmaker Martine (Nelly Alard, L'appartement), who just happens to be making a documentary about women and their relationships with food. Once the subject is raised, no one can stop talking; woman after woman faces the camera and talks about her food hang-ups. It starts benignly and grows darker as day goes on, the interviews turning from happy chirruping about favorite foods and fond childhood memories to abuse and self-loathing. The whole thing becomes a public confessional for bingers, purgers, and fasters of all ages and ethnicities.
And that's the real point of Eating. The party is just an excuse to show that women of all ages deal with the same thought processes around the same issues. Even the gorgeous Martine thinks she's fat. While everyone wishes they had her body, she envies the stick-thin Kate. It's a powerful message, made more so by the casting of real women talking about real problems.
Of course, after an hour of this, the interviews begin to take their toll. When you interview thirty people and they all say the same thing, do you really have to show them all? Without clear narrative cues, Eating begins to drag around the midway point. It's difficult to get a feel for the pace, since two-thirds of what narrative there is gets abandoned early on—Sadie's client confirms she's dropping her while the party is still warming up, and it's never brought up again; and Kate continues to talk about her perfect marriage and how she wonders if she should try something else, but once the guests arrive, the whole thing fades into the background with no clear resolution. Only Helene gets something akin to a full story, as she becomes increasingly frantic and disjointed while sidewinding friend Sophie (Gwen Welles, New Year's Day) whispers in her ear like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
The cast does a fine job with their limited roles. Everyone is believable, though when they are in front of Martine's camera, their confessions are pale imitations of the real ones. This is especially true of Helene interrupting her mother's thoughts on her daughter's childhood; it's the one scene in the film that feels forced. Speaking of Helene's mother, Frances Bergen (American Gigolo) presents the older generation's view on all these food-neurotic women ("I just don't understand"). Other than a closet binger, she's the only one who gets to eat cake.
Eating describes itself as a comedy, but aside from the infamous cake-passing scene, there aren't a lot of gut-busting laughs. At best, there are a few minor chortles. The best time to make a joke is just after an emotional moment, and there are plenty to spare in this film. If they had found a way to capitalize on some of those, it would have raised the enjoyment level exponentially.
In terms of presentation, Breaking Glass' 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is reasonably clean, with a little noticeable grain during the darker scenes. The color palette isn't particularly vibrant, but it is nicely balanced, and the spacing between actresses is extraordinary, considering how many guests showed up to the party. It's a wonder the house didn't bulge and explode like something out of Spongebob Squarepants. And yet Jaglom was somehow able to keep the back of everyone's heads out of most shots. The audio is 2.0 mono, which is fine since there isn't anything other than talking going on.
Extras include a commentary track by Jaglom, which offers some really interesting moments and a lot of long silences. There's also a 44-minute segment of Donahue (the king of daytime talk shows before Oprah) talking very seriously about eating disorders, complete with Phil's normal phone calls and audience interviews.
Eating carries an important and heartfelt message. It struck some nerves when it first debuted, and is just as jarring today. As a film, however, its lack of a strong narrative and balancing humor makes it a bit of a grind. You will either be incredibly moved or incredibly bored.
Not for everyone, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Breaking Glass
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