Food memoirs are tricky, sticky things. For every gorgeous story of triumph and failure and redemption and oysters spun on an edible loom (Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones & Butter; Jon Reiner's The Man Who Couldn't Eat), there are 10 tomes scribbled by self-involved foodie douchebags who think everyone should give a shit about the time their Bengali housekeeper slipped them a thimble of saffron when they were 11. No one cares. And while plenty loved British food writer Nigel Slater's 2003 hit Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger, S.J. Clarkson's film version doesn't give the best-selling author and TV personality's heartstrings-twiddling life much of a chance.
Starting with Slater's childhood in Wolverhampton, Toast establishes its protagonist's inquisitive nature early, as 9-year-old Nigel, neatly portrayed by Oscar Kennedy, begs his can-boiling mother (Victoria Hamilton) and frosty dad (Ken Stott) to show a little ambition in the kitchen. As fumbly as mum might be behind the stove, both mother and son treasure these times as bonding moments; epicurean advancement is low on the list for his parents, however, due to his mother's debilitating asthma. While he emits sensual moans while poring over cookbooks beneath the sheets, mum struggles for every breath. She passes away suddenly and leaves Nigel with a broken father and no partner in culinary crime.
"Normal families are totally overrated," Nigel's boyhood friend reassures him as he laments the sudden ubiquity of Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter), a housecleaner who earns his father's affections via short skirts and killer lemon meringue. "You'll probably grow up to be interesting." And while he does — teenage Nigel (Freddie Highmore) blossoms as a cook, blowing away his home-ec classes and putting the competitive Mrs. Potter on her heels — Toast itself does not, cramming an hour's worth of personal, sexual and culinary discovery into its last 15 minutes. Slater is often praised for his warmth and approachability, virtues this rushed take on his life do not possess.
Toast opens Friday at Ritz at the Bourse.