Chronicle Recommends: Restaurant Films

Sweet stories and savory drama abound in these flicks

Every month, the Chronicle’s film critics select a theme and offer movie recommendations. This month, in honor of the Chronicle’s annual First Plates dining awards, we pick our favorite films set in restaurants.

Waitress (2007)

Now is a good time to visit Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film since a stage adaptation has just opened this season as a Broadway musical. The film stars Keri Russell as Jenna, a beleaguered waitress in a Southern diner. A mixture of comedy, drama, and wish fulfillment, Waitress is as delectable as the pies with the funny names that Jenna bakes for sale at the diner. Strong comedic support comes from obstetrician Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, and writer/director Shelly as fellow waitresses, and, yes, Andy Griffith as an odd customer. Waitress is like the meringue topping on the American indie cinema. – Marjorie Baumgarten

Life Is Sweet (1990)

Mike Leigh has called this his least favorite film – a contrarian opinion for such a crowdpleaser that’s sweet but never cloying, and refreshingly matter-of-fact about life’s endless cavalcade of disappointments. The main focus is on a working class family in London, but supporting player Timothy Spall (a Leigh regular) steals the show as a family friend who sinks all his money into opening a restaurant. When no customers show up for the first night, Spall gets drunk, strips down to his skivvies, and smashes the place up. So much for a stiff upper lip. – Kimberley Jones

Big Night (1996)

This underrated gem tells the story of two immigrant brothers trying to save their failing Italian restaurant. Primo (Tony Shalhoub) is a brilliant chef who creates perfect dishes, but his brother Secondo (Stanley Tucci) struggles to fill the restaurant with patrons who want more Americanized fare. The two are given an opportunity to turn it around when they are promised that Louis Prima will patronize the eatery, and so begins an epic night of magnificent food, sterling ensemble acting, and gallons and gallons of wine. Do not watch on an empty stomach. – Josh Kupecki

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