Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight
The loner (Franco) meets hikers Kate Mara (center) and Amber Tamblyn.
The Dinner : spinach salad and garlic bread at Olympia Pizza


James Franco Wants to Sit at Your Table, or Any Table

Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight
The loner (Franco) meets hikers Kate Mara (center) and Amber Tamblyn.
The Dinner: spinach salad and garlic bread at Olympia Pizza & Spaghetti House (516 15th Ave.).

The Movie: 127 Hours at Guild 45 (2115 N. 45th St.).

The Screenplate: While drinking alone at a bar is considered socially acceptable behavior, there's something about dining alone--beyond fast food, at least--that seems a little odd. Look at that guy over there, eating his pasta and reading a book. What's his problem?

Food is a social activity, from the cooking to the clean-up. Dining should be communal. Words and wine belong together. Yet in the wilderness, where canyoneer Aron Ralston became trapped by a dislodged boulder in 2003, we celebrate the solitary adventurer, the brave soloist who accepts all the risk with full knowledge that no one else will be able to observe his exploits. Or rescue him, if things go bad. In a restaurant, the soloist might strike up a conversation with another table, even join them for a meal, maybe make some new friends. That's why Ralston, played by James Franco in Danny Boyle's gripping new 127 Hours, begins to question his priorities when stuck in a Utah canyon...

127 Hours begins with Ralston's hyperactive preparations for his next day's hike into Canyonlands National Park, an outing he believes will only take him half a day. For sustenance, he only packs a burrito and one water bottle with his other gear. He forgets his sharp Swiss Army knife. He doesn't call his parents or tell anyone where he's going. He's a soloist. After camping in his truck at the trailhead, he sets out on his mountain bike--trailed by Boyle's helicopter overhead--jazzed on his own energy, hot-dogging it, crashing once and laughing when he's unscathed. Face covered in a bandana, Phish pumping into his headphones, he's more than a little ridiculous--brash, impetuous, immature for the 27-year-old single engineer he is.

But then, company! He meets two cute, lost hikers and takes them on a detour (checking his watch first, because he's in some kind of solitary time trial). And there, as he guides them to a subterranean swimming spot, an oasis of blue amid red sandstone, he actually begins to slow down and open up. The two girls (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) are nice to this manic adventure dork. They may tease his taste in music, but they also strip down to bras and panties to swim with him. They even invite him to a party that night. If he were smart, he'd stay with them and bag his prior plans. But, no, he's got a schedule to keep, an appointment with adventure!

Once his right arm is pinned by the boulder, however, the loner begins to question his haste and his solitude. The 127 hours begin counting down.

Which brings us to East Capitol Hill's Olympia Pizza & Spaghetti House, one of three Seattle restaurants with the same name (now operated independently), one of the least trendy places on the 15th Ave. strip. In the same location since 1989, Olympia Pizza is a long, deep Greek-Italian joint with a bar, some TVs, and plenty of tables that can be smooshed together for an impromptu birthday celebration. If you don't have a reservation, if Coastal Kitchen and 22 are full, there's always Olympia Pizza. The clientele reflects its friendly, unpretentious vibe: a big table of kids in their 20s, celebrating someone's engagement, tired parents with small kids, married seniors on a date night, wearing sensible shoes and fleece. Sports games are on the TVs, and there's often a dog tied up outside. (In summer, there are a few outdoor tables, too.) In short, it's a neighborhood joint, the kind of place you take for granted because it's not, well, adventurous.

But, like any long-established eatery, it's also a community hub. And the food isn't intended to be daring. Pizzas come with the usual array of toppings, and portions are healthy. When I ordered a large spinach salad, my server essentially said, No--not unless you've got a herd of goats to feed. Having only a one-goat appetite, I was persuaded to order the regular-size salad ($6.50), augmented by some crisp, tasty garlic bread ($2.25) and a Ninkasi IPA ($4.50). It was all the food I needed. My companion ordered the beef ravioli in tomato cream sauce ($11.25), which he couldn't even finish. All quite fresh and edible, but not so fancy as to get in the way of conversation--talk about family and friends, winter ski trips, whose kid had gotten into which school. The meal is an occasion to chat about the future and past, not to obsess about ingredients or local sourcing.

Others may crave adventure in dining, but not me. I don't like the food to be in the foreground. A trip to some new restaurant is fundamentally about the friends I'm meeting there. And those notions, in paraphrase, are some of the thoughts that run through the desperate Ralston's head as he grows ever more exhausted, dehydrated, and delirious in the slot canyon. He thinks about his parents and sister, his high-school buddies, and the girlfriend he dumped (perhaps because she wasn't outdoorsy enough?). As Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle told us during a recent Seattle sit-down, it's only when Ralston is trapped and alone that he begins to consider "that feeling of the importance of people, our communality."

If Ralston's decision to cut off his own arm in order to rejoin humanity seems shocking, Boyle doesn't see it that way. It's more of a life-affirmative act. No one wants to die alone.

And at Olympia Pizza (or any other restaurant), no one wants to dine alone.

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