Aren’t foodies dull?
Looking back with anger on an unhappy childhood in the Midlands, Marie Claire food writer Nigel Slater’s axe-grinding memoir was made into a BBC TV movie a couple years back, and is now inexplicably being given a theatrical release on these shores. Awash in so much post-war British boyhood self-pity it might as well be a Roger Waters song, Toast is a deeply arrogant and unpleasant movie. In the 1960’s, young Slater (played by Oscar Kennedy as a 9-year-old and Freddie Highmore as a teen) struggles as his sophisticated palate and burgeoning homosexuality increasingly alienate him from his dingy surroundings. He also seems like kind of a dick.
Poor Mum (Victoria Hamilton) is so helpless in the kitchen she could (and does) burn a pot of water. The family’s attempted subsistence on tinned meals often botched, the title delicacy becomes Slater’s most frequent meal. Even as a wee lad, Nigel longs for exotic cheeses (or at the very least, something to eat that doesn’t come out of a can) in that condescending fashion that makes your foodie friends so insufferable sometimes. His ghastly father (Ken Stott) is a bespectacled boor, crudely dismissing the child’s attempts at culinary excellence—and pretty much everything else about the kid.
After Mom passes away from an unspecified respiratory ailment, blowsy cleaning lady Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) wins the heart of Nigel’s Dad, tormenting the fussy child with her thunderous lack of table manners and breeding the film seems to find substandard. It’s another one of those garishly overstated Bonham Carter performances, with a dire blond dye-job and cartoonishly amped-up sexuality. But Mrs. Potter knows her way around the kitchen, and before long she and teenage Nigel find themselves locked in bitter competition over dessert recipes.
The script, by Billy Elliot scribe Lee Hall, contains an ugly whiff of class snobbery, with S.J. Clarkson’s barn-door broad direction adding to the air of shrill bitterness. The entire endeavor feels like it was made to settle some old scores, and by the time Toast is finally over you’ll wish Slater had just taken this all up with his therapist instead.