Toast: An English Foodie's Coming-of-Age

Premiered as a BBC1 telefilm, now flaunting its wasteful widescreen in theaters, Toast adapts the autobiography of Nigel Slater, a popular British food writer looking back in condescension on the Midlands of his youth. The film begins in the middle-class Wolverhampton home where young Nigel is raised on a tinned-food diet by his asthmatic mum (Victoria Hamilton), a cook who could burn water, and his chronically indigested, owlish dad (Ken Stott). Nigel's only respite is visits by a free-spirited young gardener in motorcycle leathers—the way Nigel gazes on his mentor gives us some inkling of the boy's nascent adult desires. When Mum passes, she's replaced by Helena Bonham Carter's lower-class housekeeper—a gifted cook—who seduces Dad and competes for his affection through food preparation with Nigel, who has grown into a home-economics prodigy. Oscar Kennedy and Freddie Highmore, respectively playing Nigel as an adolescent and teenager, are remarkably well-matched in lack of screen presence, if not in looks. Slater's book was evidently an ax-grinder, and the resulting film, directed with tone-deaf comic rhythm by S.J. Clarkson, shows pity and bemusement for the people raising Nigel but rarely human interest in them. More damning still, even the food looks ugly.

 
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