Cast: Adrien Brody, Elise Neal, David Moscow, Catherine Kellner, Jesse L. Martin, Simon Baker (then credited as Baker-Denny), Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Sybil Darrow (then Temchen), Michael Stoyanov, Vonte Sweet, Elon Gold, John Carroll Lynch, Lauryn Hill, and Avery Kidd Waddell
Writer: Tom Cudworth
Director: Eric Bross
Release date: July 24, 1999 (Japan); January 28, 2000 (U.S.)
Overall score: 7/10
Brody performance: 7/10
This film is one I think I would enjoy even without Adrien’s involvement, especially considering my fondness for others in the cast, such as: Jesse L. Martin, David Moscow, Lauryn Hill, and John Carroll Lynch. However, it’s really hard to picture anyone else taking his place.
His performance here is captivating. He breaks your heart, charms you, makes you laugh… a mixture we’ve come to expect from him by this point. You almost always get multi-dimensional work out of Adrien. He lends more complexity and layers to a role than even the writer(s) or director likely expected. You could write a completely one-note type character, or a two-sentence character description, but you’ll be fine if you cast Adrien Brody. To paraphrase Woody Allen: you hire good people, stay out of their way, then when it comes out good, take credit for it.
Adrien’s character, Chris Calloway, is the center of the story, and all else kind of revolves around him. Chris is a bartender at a restaurant in New Jersey, but has aspirations of breaking free and being a playwright for a living. His best friends are line cooks and servers there, as is former friend Kenny (played by Simon Baker) for whom Chris holds a lot of contempt.
A new waitress, Janine (Elise Neal) catches Chris’ eye almost immediately, and the attraction appears to be quite mutual. His coworkers/friends tease him relentlessly about this crush being his “chocolate fantasy, part two,” as his former girlfriend was black, and so is this new young lady.
Chris grew up with a racist father who was perfectly comfortable dropping the N bomb during casual dinner conversation. Chris, in turn, hates the word and will not use it, even for the sake of quoting someone. You get the vibe that Chris’ attraction to black women is almost a form of protest or rebellion against his father’s memory, whether conscious or unconscious. When Chris’ best friend, Ray/”Reggae” (charmingly portrayed by David Moscow) comments his father would turn in his grave if he saw him with Janine. Chris quips that if his bigoted father turned in his grave every time he did something he didn’t approve of, “he’d be a f**king rotisserie.” Chris seems to take great joy in that thought.
Throughout the film, we see the process of a play Chris wrote being staged by a director named Kurt (Elon Gold). First, at the start of the movie, Chris sleeps through the play’s auditions, so he isn’t aware that his nemesis Kenny (Baker) has snagged the lead role (a character based on Chris himself). He finds out during an awkward and ultimately heated exchange at a party.
Then we see Kurt (Gold) tell Chris that “There Was Lightening” (the aforementioned play) lacks resolution. The reason for this is that the play is based on Chris’ relationship with ex-love Leslie (Lauryn Hill), and the relationship itself has had no resolution. Once he and Leslie make their peace with each other in real life, Chris writes it into the play to provide an ending with closure.
Restaurant‘s director, Eric Bross, did a great job combining the play and Chris’ real life into one sequence, to make it clearer that what we were seeing between Chris and Leslie was also being acted out in the play. It’s a beautifully and cleverly done sequence.
Chris’ life seems to be coming together nicely. His play is successful, Janine is in love with him (and he suspects he’s in love with her), he’s made some peace with Kenny, and he’s finally getting to quit his job at the restaurant.
However, two events that happen at roughly the same time in the story shatter this otherwise ideal slice of life Chris is building for himself. One is the death of a rather important character, the other is… well… a very poor word choice during a heated moment, which leaves Chris, Janine and his friends devastated and divided.
There is some resolution in the final scene of the film, but it is clear that things aren’t going to be exactly as they were. Some bells just can’t be un-rung.