Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper, is the story of a top-tier chef in London figuring out what life should look like once you put the booze and the cocaine away.
This provides a few options. This could be a story about loneliness, fear, denial or redemption. Much of the time, however, Burnt struggles to find out which direction to take and, in the end, it leans towards bringing chef Adam Jones, played by Cooper, to what most of us would recognize as Step One in a 12 Step recovery process – which is acceptance that you have a problem that you cannot handle by yourself.
That means Burnt, in so many words, is the story of a dry drunk. This is defined as someone who has walked away from their drugs of choice, but has yet to face the issues that turned them into an addict. The demons are still around, whether he is refusing to get high or not. And, true to form, most people in that situation are simmering personality hurricanes. Further, true to life, the chef’s troubles are all self inflicted.
So, while chef Jones is likable on a good day, he is also petulant, angry, petty and arrogant. But this is Hollywood, which has its own pratfalls, which means, largely, that Burnt caters to the possibility that an American audience will lose interest in self-inflicted torture. So, while it is the story of self-abuse, all of Jones’ troubles are glossed over — or, since he is a chef, maybe glazed over is the word to use.
The story lines in Burnt seem like props. True, the cooking scenes are visually splendid and mouth-watering and the romance between chef Jones and his assistant chef Helene, played by Sienna Miller, is generously warm and appealing. In fact, had this been what the advertisers said it was — a romantic comedy — it might have been a good one. Had it been a jolly comedy about cooking and chasing down a great review from the omniscient phantom food critic who always shows up in the last 15 minutes of these films, that might have been worthwhile, too. Instead, while there is some zeal in the story-telling, the true focus of the story gets watered down too much to make an impact.
Meanwhile, chef Jones has muscled his way into the London restaurant scene by relying on old connections with whom he has decidedly love-hate relationships. Particularly convincing — and understated — is Daniel Bruhl as the restaurant owner Tony. Particularly unconvincing, however, is the notion that Tony will only hire chef Jones if he submits to weekly drug testing, which sets up a routine of appointments with Dr. Rosshilde, a therapist played by Emmma Thompson.
Thompson‘s part is clearly the low-point in the production. Thompson is perfect for the role and that might be the trouble here. She plays a bumper-sticker version of Mother Theresa, calmly spewing one tedious cliche after another.
Eventually, Burnt comes across as a story of redemption, but the point is weakly made. That said, anyone selling this as a romantic comedy is groping for a tag-line. It isn’t that, either — not by a long shot.
All that said, there is simply too much talent here to toss Burnt into the dumpster. It gets and A for effort, but just doesn’t quite cut the mustard on substance. But it’s still more of a very good miss than a great film that falls short.