Eat With Me
Written and Directed by David Au
Premiered June 15, 2014, at the Los Angeles Film Festival
Review by Stephen O. Murray
April 21, 2015.
Eat with Me, the dramedy expansion of David Au’s short film Fresh Like Strawberries (2004), has just been released on DVD with the same actors playing the nuclear family.
The film opens with an Asian woman watching TV her husband sleeping beside her. He wakes up, goes into the bathroom, and cuts off his wedding ring saying it had been giving him a headache. (This is truly a bizarre way to start a movie, though it was something Au’s father had actually done.)
The next morning, Emma [Sharon Omi] leaves to stay with her son, Elliot [Teddy Chen Culver]. Elliot is the owner and cook of a failing Los Angeles restaurant that he had inherited from his mother’s brother. After feeding his visiting mother chow fun, he agrees to let her stay with him in his two-story condo. Once there, of course, he scrambles to pick up dirty clothes spread everywhere.
Emma does not seem much of a “Dragon Lady,” as Elliot’s waitress [Jamila Alina] remarks upon first seeing her in the restaurant. Clearly she has heard bad things regarding Emma. Moreover, most viewers at this point will be sympathizing with Emma’s shock at her husband’s behavior the previous night, so Elliot’s antagonistic relationship toward his mother early on is somewhat difficult to credit as the basis for his present multiplicity of frustrations.
Elliot himself is a hunk without much imagination. He’s never had a relationship last longer than a week (if that), and I wonder how long ago he optimistically bought those condoms his mother found hidden in his bedside drawer? He is a lousy business manager, and his old-fashioned menu at the restaurant is passé. He is six months behind on his mortgage, and the bank is about to have the restaurant foreclosed.
With these tensions established, the film becomes somewhat formulaic as it winds toward resolution. That mother and son are going to have a rapprochement is easily predicted, and once we meet his free-spirited neighbor, aerobic instructor Maureen [Nicole Sullivan, MADTV], it is easy to see that Maureen is going to be the one to disinhibit Emma — though I wouldn’t have predicted how. The demanding husband (Ken Narasaki) is properly if not predictably chastened. Plus, there is a love interest: Elliot meets a charming British musician named Ian [Aidan Bristow] with patience enough to establish a relationship.
There is also a Good Fairy, George Takei, who offers Emma counsel on how to get along better with her gay Asian son.
And of course there is food: lots of dumplings (including a cheeseburger one), noodles, and even a chocolate ganache that Elliot, who does not know how to bake, makes in a class to which Ian takes him.
I might fault the movie for awkward dialogue except that the difficulty Emma has communicating with her husband and her son is central to the movie. She has less trouble communicating with Maureen and Ian than with her Chinese husband and their son.
There is no feisty, adorable kid, so Eat with Me is not the Asian version of Chef. Nor is it as good as The Wedding Banquet, which also featured a butch Chinese son who had never told his parents he was gay (though they also had figured it out). Eat with Me lacks the sitcom exaggerations of Fresh Off the Boat or the agony of loss in Lilting (which also featured a “knowing” Chinese mother).
Still, with likable characters, the upbeat ending guarantees everyone feels good when Elliot finally relaxes in relations to his mother, his new boyfriend, and his loyal employees.
This review first appeared in Out In Jersey
©Stephen O. Murray, 21 April 2015