Eat With Me (Au, 2014)

I probably should have liked Eat With Me more than I did.

What with its earnest, uncloseted gay (and ethnic) protagonist, its traditional mother who is not too set in her ways to learn (and ethnic), and its (ethnic) foodie sensibilities, Eat With Me practically falls over itself in its eagerness to please.

The film starts with Emma (Sharon Omi) in bed, disgusted by her snoring husband. He wakes up just long enough to scream and cut off his wedding band with a pair of pliers. She walks out on him.

Her temporary landing spot is with her son Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver). He takes her in, but there is wariness on both sides. His restaurant is behind on the mortgage, and he doesn’t like sharing his problems with anyone. The set up is pure sitcom, but give the film some points for treading lightly. Each has to learn to be a little more open with the other.

One interesting aspect of the film is that mother and son are more willing to learn indirectly, from others. Maureen (Nicloe Sullivan) talks with Emma about being a friend to a male whom one is not involved with. Emma also meets George (George Takei) in the park. His easy openness about his sexuality allows him to be more blunt with her than Elliot ever could be, pushing her past some of the cultural barriers to open communication.

For Elliot’s part, he is more at ease talking with a new boyfriend he’s just had sex with than with friends, family, and coworkers who are already enmeshed in his life.

Implicit in the mother-son detente is, I suppose, an implied comparison between Elliot’s relationships and Emma’s. Is Emma’s relationship with her husband better simply by virtue of being traditional? Does Elliot really not believe (or see) that his casual sexuality (gay or straight) is related to his trust issues?

Photo Courtesy of Wolfe VIdeo
Photo Courtesy of Wolfe VIdeo

As is the case with some better movies, food becomes both a metaphor for intimacy and sex. But the film is never really sensual in the same way as, say, Eat Drink Man Woman or even Big Night. (I might even argue there is some latent sensuality in Babette’s Feast.) I don’t know if this is because I wasn’t in tune with the film’s message or whether director David Au doesn’t have the same technical ability to shoot the cooking scenes. One possible answer: the film tries so hard to be matter of fact about Elliot’s gayness that it ends up being matter of fact about sex. Another possible answer: eroticism is about where familiarity, safety, and intimacy are in tension with passion, danger,and uncertainty. The film spends so much time positioning David and Emma to take baby steps towards domestic acceptance that it fails to make either character interesting apart from the tensions over Elliot’s sexuality.

Eat With Me (★★) is a fairly conventional film that perhaps has the virtue of a cast of characters that underserved audience demographics might relate to more easily than they would were this same story told with…I don’t know, Diane Keaton and Andrew Garfield. 

The film will be available through VOD on May 2 and on DVD in June.

Check out the trailer below:

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