By Bradley Donalson
Emma (Sharon Omi) is tired of a life that has become boring, predictable, and bland; the only spice she gets is the sauce she puts on her morning egg whites. After her husband cuts off his wedding ring because it’s giving him a headache, she decides it’s time for a change and moves in with her estranged son, Elliot (Teddy Chen Culver), in downtown Los Angeles. Elliot, a gay chef who took over a Chinese restaurant from his uncle, struggles to reconnect with his intense mother as well as his own fears of commitment and intimacy while the bank threatens his restaurant with foreclosure.
Writer/director David Au, expanding on his 2003 short film Fresh Like Strawberries, has taken a snapshot of life and crafted it into a universal story. The characters are rich and complex. Emma is both demure and stubborn in a way that only a mother can be, passing judgment with the best of intentions while not knowing how to better her own life. Elliot is utterly loyal to his friends and coworkers while being a bit of a playboy who is almost physically repelled by the idea of forming a connection with the men in his life.
Even the supporting roles each feel fully fleshed-out and complete. Maureen (Nicole Sullivan), the quirky and nosey neighbor who befriends Emma, has her own story of a failed relationship that bonds the two women—that and an accidental trip of the chemical persuasion. Jenny (Jamila Alina) is Elliot’s best friend and coworker who acts in many ways like a sister, comforting him when he needs it and needling him when he doesn’t. The cast works their magic giving the characters subtlety and nuance that makes them three-dimensional and real.
But you can’t mention the dynamics in this film without talking about the food. Without having to utter a word, the food provides a depth and connection with and between the characters. When the repressed Emma can’t thank her son for letting her stay, she makes a full Asian breakfast for him before he wakes up. When Elliot can’t find a way to talk with his mother, he asks her to teach him how to make dumplings. When Elliot is fumbling his way through a budding relationship with a beautiful musician, Ian (Aidan Bristow), they connect over dinner or making desserts. Food works as a social conduit throughout the movie, building relationships in a realistic and meaningful way. It even shows up in the form of ice cream which connects a naïve Emma with a special appearance by George Takei.
The writing, acting, and directing of Eat With Me blends together perfectly, becoming a film about finding a personal path in life and getting out of your own way. Au claims that “besides being hungry, I hope the audience will come out of the theater feeling energized about their own lives or inspired to make a change for the better.” The takeaway from this movie is that sometimes it’s good to think outside the box, sometimes it’s good to get back to your roots, but it’s always best to just be yourself and make important connections with the people in your life.
Eat With Me is available digitally now, and will be available June 2 on DVD from Wolfe Video (http://wolfeondemand.com).