Food based television programming is constantly increasing in popularity. It feels like every other new show on television is some sort of kitchen competition. You can tell how ingrained it is into the popular consciousness because now it has it’s very own kidnap and torture horror movie: Joe Maggio’s micro-budget Bitter Feast, with celebrity chef Mario Batali, no less.
Egotistical celebrity chef Peter Gray (James Le Gros) has painted himself into a corner. He’s such an ass that no one wants to work with him, his cooking show is on the verge of cancellation, and his signature line of cookware has been “put on hold”, which in reality means that it has been scrapped all together. He’s a pretentious elitist, hopelessly lonely, and haunted by a childhood trauma, though initially you’re unsure of just how this affects him. JT Franks (Joshua Leonard) is an overly harsh food blogger and restaurant critic. A failed novelist, Franks takes his frustrations out on his targets because he hates himself and his young child died of leukemia.
When Franks pans Gray’s new restaurant on his blog, unfortunately called “Gastropunks”, it is the last straw, and Gray is fired and seeks revenge against the man he thinks ruined his career. He kidnaps Franks, and keeps him chained up in the basement of his country house, which isn’t quite the middle of nowhere, “but it’s close”. In an attempt to make Franks feel empathy with the hard working people he eviscerates in his reviews, Gray tortures him by proving just how difficult it is to cook well, and by making Franks watch reruns of Gray’s show, “The Feast, with Peter Gray”.
The biggest problem with Bitter Feast is that it’s hard to find someone to root for. Both of the central figures are reprehensible human beings, and neither one learns much of a lesson, or has a real character arc. Gray just discovers that he is more like his dead brother than he thought, and Franks decides to focus more on his fiction and get away from food writing. There’s an attempt to make you care about Franks’ wife, Katherine (Amy Seimetz), but she’s never fully developed enough to elicit a true emotional reaction.
While Bitter Feast could stand to pick up the pace a little, it sags noticeably in the middle like an old couch, and the conclusion leaves something to be desired, overall the film is engaging and fun to watch. Bitter Feast is nothing that will blow your hair back, but it is an interesting and appealing take on a subgenre that you’ve become familiar with, and this is all despite James Le Gros’ regular forays into the fantastic land of overacting.
The DVD comes with a nice assortment of bonus features. There’s a deleted scene and alternate ending that were both cut for good reason, various trailers and teasers, and a collection of ‘portraits’, black and white photographs of the cast posed in front of a basement wall. An interview between Maggio and Mario Batali, who has a cameo, is a fun way to spend seven minutes. A 30-minute making of documentary combines interviews with behind the scenes footage to give an interesting glimpse into a film with an infinitesimal budget—they shot Bitter Feast on a modified still camera. The commentary track with Maggio, a group of producers, and the sound designer, continues along the party lines started by the making of feature.