Chalk it up to another case of flawed marketing: Whoever cut together Burnt’s trailer made it look like a different movie than what it is.
What it looks like: Oscar grabby, wannabe-edgy, grimdark-with-food, featuring a “Look at me, I’m so serious!” Bradley Cooper gunning hard for his fourth consecutive Oscar nomination. Thanks, Weinstein Company!
What it is: … Actually pretty watchable and fun.
BCoop stars as rebel chef Adam Jones, who was sailing high at the top of his profession until a love of booze, drugs, and all manner of bad behavior brought him low. After finishing a self-imposed penance—shucking one million oysters, because why the hell not?—he returns to the foodie scene in the hopes of turning the restaurant run by his one-time friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) into one worthy of three
McGuffin Michelin stars. To do so, he assembles a crack kitchen team that includes a single mother saucier (Sienna Miller) and his ex-sous chef Michel (Omar Sy of The Intouchables), with whom there’s some bad blood. “You ever see that movie The Seven Samurai?,” Adam asks. “That’s how I want my chefs to be.”
Burnt bears remarkable similarity to last year’s Chef, about a down-on-his-luck chef who tries to reinvent a flagging career by reconnecting with his culinary roots. For Jon Favreau in Chef, that’s starting a food truck. For BCoop in Burnt, it’s insisting upon an “old-fashioned” food style, even as the rest of the culinary world has dipped into trendier waters. I don’t know why critics loved Chef and are down on Burnt, because they are literally the exact same movie, down to their fondness for five-minute celebrity cameos: Where Chef has Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Jonahsson, and Dustin Hoffman, Burnt has Emma Thompson, Uma Thurman, and Alicia Vikander. (Burnt even used to be called The Chef, until Faverau’s movie came along.)
Is Burnt a great movie? No. It’s packed with every cliché you’d expect it to have, and some you wouldn’t, like the gay man tragically pining over his straight best friend. The dialogue has a tendency to be painfully clunky and on the nose (“The only person who will kill Adam Jones is Adam Jones,” “I’m back, and I’m going to cook like we did in the old days,” a speech about Burger King’s similarity to French peasant food, LOOK AT ME BURGER KING I NEED MORE MONEY FOR MY BUDGET), and early attempts to establish Jones as a rogue bad boy, the Batman of the culinary set, are a little ridiculous. (See: The oyster thing.)
But, for the most part, I was surprised by how much I liked Burnt. Evidence gleaned from the trailer aside, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which fits with who the director is: John Wells, creator of the US Shameless. (I know how we feel about Shameless around these parts.) It’s attractive, charismatic people being attractive and charismatic for two hours. I will watch Daniel Brühl in any-fucking-thing; he has a Michael Shannon-esque tendency to rise above less-than-stellar material in a way that’s really on display here. There’s food porn. No one’s going to put Burnt in the top five roles of Bradley Cooper’s career (the #1 spot goes to DJ Ski Mask, obviously), but it’s not 37%-approval-rating-on-Rotten-Tomatoes dismal, either.