The Spanish film Chef's Special (Fuera de carta) has a gala screening Wednesday night at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Or as the festival markets the film and after-party, it's a Gay!La Screening. It's no wonder this film was chosen as the festival's LGBT centerpiece
as it has all the elements of three genres rolled up into one: romantic comedy, gay comedy and cooking comedy. And for the most part, it succeeds on all counts.
Openly gay chef Maxi (Javier Cámara, right, from Almodóvar's Talk to Her) runs a swanky restaurant in Madrid's gay neighborhood, Chueca. With the assistance of his trusty maître d', and best girlfriend, Alex, Maxi hopes to snag a desired Michelin star rating for the financially-ailing eatery.
But two events happen that take his eyes off the prize. First, Horacio (Benjamin Vicuña, left), a hunky ex-soccer star, moves in next door, setting in motion a comedy of errors that has Alex pursuing Horacio, while Horacio is easing out of the closet and pursuing Maxi. Second, when Maxi's ex-wife dies, their two children come to live with him, creating typical single/absentee father strife with a bonus layer that dad is gay and having a secret affair with the neighbor, something Maxi's six-year-old daughter adjusts to quickly while his 15-year-old son acts out with resentment and anger.
Spain has been at the forefront of the European queer film movement, and gay images there have moved beyond being used to represent anarchy or transgression. Chef's Special is a big-screen comedy where, in many respects, the two leads just happen to be gay, something we are continuing to strive for in the U.S. The upcoming I Love You Phillip Morris may be a step in the right direction in this country.
With superb filmmaking and a clever story, there are times, however, when it seems first-time filmmaker Nacho Velilla plays it safe in an effort to appeal to a broad audience. Maxi and Horacio share little on-screen intimacy, while a fair amount of time is devoted to a drunken sexual encounter between Horacio and the female Alex. Maxi's restaurant is in the middle of Madrid's gay district, yet you wouldn't know it by the restaurant's patrons or staff. And to make sure audiences get their share of lowbrow gay "jokes," the film's four writers pepper the otherwise tight script with an unfortunate amount of disparaging and stereotypical remarks about the gay characters, hitting a sour note in what is an otherwise tasty morsel of a film.
Official Website: FueraDeCarta.com
Screening at the Palm Springs International Film Festival
Wednesday, January 14, 7:30 PM
Thursday, January 15, 1:30 PM