The Dinner: bacon cheeseburger and fries at Kidd Valley (531 Queen Anne Ave. N.).
Dorff cruises aimlessly in his Ferrari F430. Merrick Morton/Focus Features
The Screenplate: Did you ever feel hungry but not know what you want to eat? Or you have someplace to go, but instead you just drive around aimlessly all day? Or maybe you suffer from soul-wasting anomie, like in a Michelangelo Antonioni movie, but you're stuck in L.A. instead of some glamorous yet existential European location? Sofia Coppola knows exactly how you feel . . .Her hero, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), is an actor between pictures who's camped out at the Chateau Marmont in L.A., having apparently left his real home behind when he split with his ex. Johnny is a creature of room service: He can order girls, food, toys, and friends. Parties spontaneously occur in his room without his even asking. Yet his life is hollow and unfulfilled. Though he says very little during the film, he's clearly marked as a discontented seeker. Self-reflection comes first while mending from a broken wrist (snapped in a drunken stumble down the hotel stairs), and second when his ex suddenly dumps their 11-year-old daughter in his reluctant care. Pushing 40, this part-time dad (meaning every other weekend at best) is forced to consider what he amounts to as a man.
Kidd Valley, by contrast, is a 35-year-old local institution well past its identity crisis. The burger shop was founded in 1975 in Ravenna by John Morris, and the original location remains at the corner of Northeast 25th Street and 55th Avenue Northeast. As a kid, I remember being delighted by the blackberry shakes, so superior to those at Burgermaster or McDonalds. The place was a favorite with North End residents, and it expanded to a few more locations before being sold to Ivar's in 1989. Today, with eight Northwest franchises, you'll also find its burger stands in sports stadiums like Safeco. The novelty of the gourmet burger has passed (think Red Robin and The Turbulent Turtle), replaced by wraps or sushi or whatever they're eating in L.A. right now.
Yet oddly, though Johnny lives among the trendy and the wealthy, he's more of a homebody than you might guess. Coppola treats him sympathetically, this quiet, watchful soul. And his domestic side emerges while caring for Cleo (Elle Fanning), who drags him along to ice-skating lessons, cooks for him in their hotel room, and prefers playing Guitar Hero and eating burgers at the Marmont to a luxurious yet crass movie junket they take to Italy. As our Melissa Anderson noted in her review, Fanning is wonderful in her role, irresistible as the girl who gets her father back in touch with the simpler pleasures in life (i.e., Guitar Hero rather than room-service hookers). Cleo would love Kidd Valley, while Johnny would only dimly remember it from his own childhood (something about blackberry shakes . . . ).
Indeed, the mood of the movie is one of pining for, or trying to remember, simpler, better times--before all the fame and the glamour and the anomie. Somewhere is very much a piece with Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette, as many have noted. All that luxury, all that discontent, all that sense of loss--Coppola's protagonists are always groping for clarity among expensive distractions and inane hangers-on. They're permanently jet-lagged, sleep-deprived, or just plain melancholy, despite the fact that they all have money and good health (Johnny's wrist soon heals). Though none do any overt whining, they treat their boredom like some terrible disease. For this reason, many viewers will hate Johnny and hate Coppola's film's lassitude and self-indulgence. What does this guy have to complain about? He drives a Ferrari that costs over $300,000, yet he can't even be bothered to shift his own gears.
No such car has ever been glimpsed at the Kidd Valley in Lower Queen Anne, situated in an ugly strip mall at the corner of Queen Anne Avenue North and Mercer Street. Its neighbors are a check-cashing shop and a dry cleaner's. Its view is of bus riders waiting amid the litter and pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Its decor is a weird glass-brick mélange of '50s and '80s. The vinyl benches are torn, the Formica countertops scratched, and the whole place is less well-maintained than the eat-in Dick's just down the block. (Also, the walls are adorned with several Seattle Weekly Best of Seattle citations; and there's a slightly censored first-person account of a Kidd Valley Burger Babe pageant won by our old copy editor, Bethany Jean Clement, in 2000.) It's seen better days, though the LQA Kidd Valley was briefly in the news last month when two patrons thwarted an attempted robbery.
And yet, even this weird, eat-indoors, oddly signed Kidd Valley ("Kidd Valley Junction"? Isn't that in West Seattle?) is a reminder of happier, simpler times--when red meat wasn't bad for you, and a bacon cheeseburger plus fries ($7.30 total) wasn't some kind of guilty pleasure. The burgers are still made to order at Kidd Valley, not simmering beneath the heat lamps. That means a little wait, but it also allows you to customize your order (no relish spread!) and stare at the glum bus passengers outside. The staff is friendly and the service slow; but back in 1975, who remembers being in a hurry? And today, it's not like we've got to rush back to our Ferrari F430 and speed off to do another movie.
Kidd Valley is not a place for Johnny Marco's problems. Or for Sofia Coppola's problems, whatever they may be. For all her pining and Euro-lassitude, she'd never actually eat at such a déclassé joint. And Johnny, mindful of his weight and image (and hairline), would also shun such culinary slumming. But if you have an 11-year-old daughter who doesn't yet obsess over calories, who isn't already a committed vegan, Kidd Valley is a welcome reminder of bygone times. Still, whether you have kids or not, the original Ravenna location is preferable to LQA. Eating outside in the sun, you can almost imagine you're in L.A.