There is this new term that is being used to describe media that is either uncomfortably sexist or homophobic. The word is "problematic," which Urban Dictionary says is "frequently used in progressive political settings among white people of a certain education to avoid using herd-frightening words like 'racist' or 'sexist.'" But problematic can also be used to describe almost every aspect of this movie from the ground up.
Burnt tells the tale of handsome chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a two star Michelin-rated chef who imploded with drugs and alcohol and lost everything. So he leaves Paris and moves to New Orleans, where he refuses to leave until he has done his penance: shucking one million oysters. Since he is (of course) a tough, leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding chef, once he shucks his millionth shell, he walks out of his job without turning around or saying a word. Nice penance, asshole.
He moves to London and reconnects with everyone in his life that he screwed over or betrayed, including a guy Adam was so mad at that he released rats into his restaurant and then called the health inspector. Handsome chef assembles a team he likes and then bullies his way into running his old friend Tony's kitchen. Tony is played by the excellent Daniel Bruhl (Rush), who is in love with handsome chef, who uses this knowledge to run roughshod all over him and engage in some fairly emotionally abusive behavior. Late in the film, (SPOILERS) when something good goes his way, Adam gives Tony a pretty luxurious kiss, which Tony then thanks him for. Tony is handsome, successful, and a personable and pleasant human being. His thank you for what is really a manipulative kiss from a straight dude is problematic and condescending at best.
The straight romance is almost worse. Cooper's American Sniper co-star Sienna Miller is Helene, Adam's underling that he mentally (and almost physically) abuses on a daily basis. Adam is always yelling, cold and unfeeling, or smashing stuff, so even though this film is a food porn redemption story, we never grow to care enough about Adam and his abusive relationships with people to hope he'll get over himself.
For the entire main plot of the film to be focused on Adam's journey, not enough time is spent on Adam himself. The absolutely paint-by-numbers script follows every single cliché in the redemption arc handbook without ever actually letting us understand his subtext. Other characters talk about his rough childhood, but it is window dressing on an already rotten facade.
But here is the thing: Most of the people who go to see Burnt are not after a character study. This film is marketed to people who like "MasterChef" and the antics of Gordon Ramsay or people who want handsome chef, a romantic dramedy starring Bradley Cooper. The food porn is decent (even though none of it looks like it would be filling) and might please the amateur gourmand, but the romance makes Sienna Miller into plot contrivance. Her performance is strong (as is Cooper's), but a script that tells us how similar they are without showing us is a failure.
Burnt is a problematic movie that pretends decency. The film has good performances, is well paced, and is almost always entertaining on a base level, but it is also insulting to a degree. It doesn't need to aspire to being a character drama, but any good drama has characters we want to see grow and change and succeed. I felt so insulted by the film that even after all the delicious gourmet food it made the audience drool over, I still drove to McDonalds and got a McMuffin at 10 in the damned evening. Now that's drama.
Directed by John Wells
Now Playing at Old Mill Stadium