Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TOAST opens -- to give us a taste of Britain in the 60s and the boyhood of Nigel Slater

Toast? Ah, TOAST! The movie and the thing itself -- which proves the only bit of food our hero's mom can prepare in an edible manner -- are utter glories. This is a film, the style of which is so perfectly suited to its characters, content and theme, that it seems to self-propel, from first frame to last. (All movies, of course, should manage this, but how few ever do.)  If there were an award for movie buoyancy, Toast -- which, though dealing with some very sad things, keeps putting a big, fat grin on your face -- would win it hands-down.

Toast is a joy that gives Helena Bonham Carter yet another plum role, which she goes at with gusto (what a versatile actress she is!). Ditto, Freddie Highmore (above and below, with dessert) and Oscar Kennedy, who play our hero, respectively, as a young man and young boy. In telling the tale of the coming-of-age of Nigel Slater, on whose memoir the film is based, director S.J. Clarkson, shown at right, gets just about everything right, leaving you on a kind of cloud nine that is leavened with a profound, alternately sad and joyful, understanding of how the world (well, sometimes) works.

One of the great strengths of the movie is that our hero, Mr. Slater, comes off as anything but heroic throughout the film. He must deal with a dysfunctional family, but one that is dysfunctional in very odd ways that leave him ill-equipped to handle most anything -- as a child or as a young adult. When Ms Bonham Carter is introduced as the not-really-that-wicked stepmother-to-be, she comes off as a woman simply putting her own welfare first but trying to be as fair as she can. That young Slater will have none of it, ever, makes him less sympathetic but infinitely more real.

As his distant dad, Ken Stott (above) is terrific, too, turning what could be an all too typical character into something strange, funny and little sad. The whole cast is on a par, and Lee Hall's screenplay (from Slater's memoir) seems to have chosen just the right incidents, giving them all their proper weight.

From the scenes of Nigel as a boy -- at home, cooking with mom (above) or shopping (below)

to those once Highmore takes over the role (below) and begin to discover his road in life, the movie never loses momentum.

There's a scene late in the film that I think I have never seen anything quite like -- when a character, in what seems like a single instant, discovers his sexuality, is turned on something fierce and then immediately hung out to dry.  It's an amazing few moments, and like so much in this fine, funny, intelligent film, leaves you, as it leaves the character, initially annoyed -- then wistful, thoughtful and maybe just a little bit more determined to succeed.

Toast, from W2 Media, opens this Friday, September 23, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and at Cinemas 1,2,3.  Click here to see further playdates -- with cities and theaters -- all across the country.

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