Vinette Robinson

Boiling Point

14/01/22

Amazon Prime Video

Stephen Graham is one of the most ubiquitous actors in the business. This is not to detract from his considerable powers as a performer, but he seems to be popping up all over the place in a whole range of different guises. Boiling Point, written and directed by Philip Barantini (and developed from his 2019 short of the same name), features Graham as head chef Andy Jones, currently helming one of Dalston’s trendiest and most in-demand fine-dining restaurants. Christmas is coming but Andy hasn’t got time to sit back and soak up the festive vibes. He’s running late.

When we first encounter him, he’s already in motion, trying to get to the restaurant for a sold-out pre- Christmas sitting, whilst fielding angry phone calls from the wife he’s recently separated from. She wants to know why he hasn’t been in touch to wish his son a happy birthday. Awkward.

It’s just the start of a breathless journey into a world of relentless high pressure – indeed, this may just qualify as the most stressful viewing experience I’ve had since Uncut Gems – and I mean that in a good way. The conceit here is that Andy’s night is ingeniously filmed in one continuous tracking shot, a device that only serves to amplify the ensuing claustrophobic madness. Unlike many films that are cunningly created using hidden edits, this is the real McCoy. One can only wonder at the pressure the actors must have been under to keep the casserole bubbling. (Trivia fans might care to know that the crew only had time for four takes – and they used the third!)

Once at the restaurant Andy has more problems waiting for him. An officious environmental health inspector is in the process of downgrading the venue’s certificate from five stars to a three; Andy’s team leader, Carly (Vinette Robinson), is pressing him for a wage increase; and it turns out that his old boss, celebrity chef Alistair Skye (Jason Flemying) has booked in to dine and has brought influential food critic Sarah Southworth (Lourdes Faberes) along as his guest…

Throw in the Instagram influencers who want something that’s not actually on the menu, and a boorish customer who keeps insulting the waiters, and you have a recipe for disaster.

What follows can only be described as riveting viewing. There are arguments, misunderstandings, conflicts and catastrophes for Andy to handle and, as the proceedings go from bad to worse, we learn more about his current situation and realise that his career – and possibly his life – is hanging in the balance. As the temperature steadily rises under a metaphorical pressure cooker, we actually relish the leisurely moment where one of the dishwashers strolls outside to empty the rubbish bins, before returning to the madness.

I have only one issue: one particular impending crisis is too heavily signposted, so when it finally comes to fruition, all the dramatic tension has been squandered.

But I’m nitpicking. All kudos to Barantini and cinematographer Matthew Lewis, who come close to rivalling the genius of Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria, another genuine one-shot wonder. Those who enjoy propulsive, high stakes entertainment should strap themselves in for a memorable ride.

Those of you who hanker after a career in fine dining… maybe this frenetic feast won’t be to your taste.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Frankie

01/06/21

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Frankie had its premiere at Cannes in 2019 and, for obvious reasons, has been waiting ever since for a UK release. Finally, here it is in all its underwhelming glory. Starring the seemingly ageless Isabelle Huppert in the title role, this is the story of a successful film and TV actor (so no stretch there) who, when she finds herself stricken by incurable cancer, summons her extended family for one last vacation in Sintra, an idyllic beach location in Portugal.

She’s accompanied by (amongst others) her husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), her wayward son, Paul (Jérémie Renier), her former husband, Michel (Pascal Greggory), and her close friend, Ilene (Marisa Tomei), who, we are told, works in the film industry, currently on Star Wars. Frankie appears to be hatching a scheme to matchmake Paul and Ilene, so it’s a bit of a nuisance when she turns up with a boyfriend in tow, cinematographer Gary (Greg Kinnear) – and even more of problem when he proposes. But Frankie is skilled at manipulating the lives of those who love her and she likes nothing so much as a challenge…

Ira Sach’s languorous film is a melancholy affair that sets a bunch characters down in an idyllic location, and then fails to give them enough to do. They interact with each other, but no great drama is generated through their conversations and not much in the way of interest, either. Frankie is a siren figure, the brilliant star around which all the others circle like satellites. As Jimmy says in a key moment, he cannot really envisage any sort of life ‘after Frankie’ and nor, it seems, can the rest of them. But is this enough to create a satisfying movie? Well, no, not really, especially when some of the characters remain enigmas.

Frankie’s daughter, Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), for instance, is going through a separation from her husband, Ian (Ariyon Bakare), but we’re never really sure why – and we learn even less about their teenage daughter, Maya (Sennia Nanua), other than the fact that she likes to spend time on the beach. (But then, who doesn’t, especially in a place like Sintra?) Huppert is as enigmatic as ever, giving an almost ethereal performance – although for somebody succumbing to the ravages of cancer, she appears to be in perfect health.

Ultimately, this is pleasant enough, but it fails to kindle enoughof sparks to set the proceedings alight.

2.9 stars

Philip Caveney