I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies, I often find them cheesy, predictable, unrealistic and cliched; however I found Jay Silverman’s Off The Menu to be an utter delight. It’s a bright, cheerful and full of life film, which will leave you hungry in more ways than one. The film is a real treat and draws into the charming world of Javiera Torres’ little restaurant tucked away in a little town in the state of New Mexico, by the end of the film you will be daydreaming about moving there and dining on her food. It’s a vibrant town full of lively characters, and beautiful scenery.
Silverman manages to capture the very essence of what makes New Mexico such an unique place on Earth, allowing the natural beauty to speak for itself. The film follows Joel Flanagan (Santino Fontana) the heir to Mexican fast-food chain Tortilla Hut who must take responsibility for his life otherwise he will lose out on his inheritance. He is sent on a scouting mission by his long-suffering sister (Kristen Dalton) to search for new flavours for the chain in the South East. Joel loathes Mexican food and is a bit of a health freak, even throwing away his girlfriend’s coffee machine because too much caffeine is bad for you. He reluctantly leaves on his mission, after his girlfriend walks out on him.
Through no fault of his own, he finds himself stranded in a small New Mexican town with their own star chef Javiera Torres (Dania Ramirez) whose dishes bring people from all over the state to try her speciality with her “boyfriend/business partner” Kevin (Andrew Carter) pressuring her to open up a restaurant with him. Torres is happy with running her own little restaurant, serving the locals and working with her family, she’s not keen on the prospect of branching out bigger and she’s not keen on the arrival of Joel. Naturally, the two clash at first, they both start to learn more about life, business and food. However, slowly the two get closer and soon Joel becomes part of the family, but will his past catch up with him?
You might not recognise Fontana physically but there’s a high chance you’ll recognise his voice especially if you have young children, he was the voice of the character Hans from Frozen (2013) and has a lot of television work, most notably in the comedy series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Certainly he seems very relaxed playing comedic roles, especially as the asshole who becomes a better person, and develops into Prince Charming. His performance made me think of Paul Rudd, and Fontana has that same cheeky, down to Earth, everyday man appeal to him as Rudd does. He’s extremely likeable and enjoyable to watch on screen, giving a very solid performance without being too slapstick and goofy. One of the film’s funniest scenes involves Joel getting drunk at a fiesta, and making a fool of himself in front of the whole town, it will make even the most serious individuals crack a smile.
Dania Ramirez is fantastic as Javiera Torres, and is fiesty, funny and warm all at the same time. Ramirez is a Latin American actress born in the Dominican Republic an grew up, living with her grandmother, in a poor household. Her parents left for the United States, when she was 6-months old, and she later joined them when she was ten. Her dream was always to become an actress, and she is certainly very talented. You may know her from either Heroes where she played Maya Herrera or from The Sopranos as Blanca Selgado. She delivers a great performance in Off the Menu, and seems to be larger than life. The characters are well developed, thanks to Jennifer Goldman’s script, which manages to bring some spice to the story. Ramirez’s monologue towards the end of the film is so moving and brought a tear to my eye, it was full of passion and was very moving. She is certainly a very capable actress who deserves bigger roles in more films.
The supporting cast is also strong, with great performances from the likes of Maria Conchita Alonso who plays Javiera’s mother and has a great scene discussing her sex life which is both hilarious and embarrassing. There is also a strong performance from Andrew Carter who plays Kevin and is the sleaziest hipster I have come across in a film before. However, the strongest supporting performance comes from Makenzie Moss who plays Javiera’s daughter Sophia, who has some amusing one liners and delivers them in a natural cheeky way, her interactions with Fontana are very amusing to watch.
The use of colour is very effective especially in setting up the different world of the two central characters. The opening shows how bright, colourful and warm the world that Javiera belongs to compared to the bleak, cold and harsh world that Joel exists in. The cinematography is also impressive, with grand aerial and wide shots that capture the beauty of New Mexico in a way that makes it seem so inviting. The careful attention to detail on the dishes that Javiera prepares throughout the food are so good that this film will make you hungry for good quality, homemade
This is certainly a film which is charming, good-hearted and a feast for the eyes. Don’t be put off by the fact that it is a romantic comedy, and I do urge you to give it ago. Try something new and seek this out. You will not be disappointed.