In the Weeds, made in 2000 and just out on a bare bones DVD, is the restaurant equivalent of a slasher flick. Instead of young and pretty kids besieged by a crazy guy with a chainsaw, this movie features young and pretty waiters wrestling that scary demon called Real Life. As in slashers, each of the pretty kids here fall into specific categories—tramp Becky (Bonnie Root), jerk Chris (J.P. Pitoc), naïve newcomer Martha (Ellen Pompeo), nice guy Adam (Joshua Leonard), vain guy Marlon, (Michael Buchman Silver), cynical veteran Chloe (Molly Ringwald). Additionally predictable, we know who’s gonna end up our hero only moments after the opening credits. Routine as it is, In the Weeds, like any halfway decent slasher, offers a few significant jolts, though none is memorable.
Set during one particularly busy night in a swanky NYC restaurant, In the Weeds introduces our wait staff through a series of obvious set-ups. For instance, Becky is going down on a guy in a freezer when we first see her, character development all but taken care of in a single head bob. Over the course of the evening we observe them bitching about customers and their sad lives in general. There’s no real plot here, just a series of situations that restate what we already know about these stock characters.
Chloe, for instance, reveals to Martha as she shows her around that she’s been working at the restaurant for over a decade. Unlike Martha, who’s studying sociology at school or Adam, a playwright, or Marlon, an actor, or even Chris, who’s working to support his new family, Chloe apparently has nothing else in her life apart from her apron, and functions in the narrative only to remind Martha of what could happen if she finds herself getting too comfortable taking dinner orders. Oh, and to prove to the customers (and the viewing audience, all potential restaurant customers ourselves) that waiters are smarter and wittier than they are.
Chloe does exactly what we would expect Chloe to do throughout the film. She skillfully derides her fellow workmates and emasculates the gang of Wall Street hotties at the only table we see her working. She’s not the only one with an agenda throughout In the Weeds. Nobody here ever really breaks down the generic expectations we have of their characters. The actor is never anything but arrogant, the tramp is soon caught fucking the cook, the jerky guy winds up getting folks fired, and the naïve chick impresses everyone with her wide-eyed sensitivity.
That said, the situations the crew find themselves in are occasionally funny. Marlon’s confrontation with a mean customer played with suitable snippiness by Peter Riegert is one such example, as is practically every scene featuring Broadway star Sam Harris as over-the-top host, Jonathan. At times, In the Weeds even gets a little emotional, as in Martha’s case, who must serve an old couple who don’t say a word to each other throughout their meal. Still, these moments serve no real purpose other than to let all us know all the kinds of hilarious and odd things that can happen during restaurant rush hour (the “in the weeds” of the title).
The movie only manages to break out of its predictable mold, allowing its characters to impart meaningful waiter wisdom, when it’s too late to matter. When a busboy (Rene Millan), for example, is accused of stealing, restaurant manager Simon (Eric Bogosian, writer of the superior kids-complaining-about-life flick, Suburbia), who—surprise—is evil and controlling, berates the poor guy in front of everyone before firing him, and moving on to berate everyone else (“Chloe,” he says, “the salad days are over. This is your life!”). Adam decides to stand up for the gang, giving Simon a serve of his own: “You’re my rent, you’re my phone bill, maybe a Knicks game every now and again… No job is worth this.”
It’s glorious payback for Simon’s torture, especially for Adam who has spent the night serving Simon and a business partner, enduring much ridicule throughout. But it doesn’t make much difference in the long run. Even though Adam loathes his job, he’s soon back on the floor. For Adam, Simon’s evil is hardly rock bottom. When Marlon finds out he’s lost yet another acting gig (this time for a director whose name “rhymes with Skielberg”), Adam tells him his dream is far from over: “We won’t all make it,” he says, “but if you quit now, if you don’t give yourself the chance to really fail, and I mean fail consistently, in an epic way, like nobody else has ever failed before, then you will look back on this choice and you will regret it for the rest of your life. If I’m going down, I want lots of fire and explosions and every shred of my being spent trying.”
Leonard chooses to deliver this speech with a slight smile, but the melodrama of the whole thing is still laughable. It’s not at if the guys are failing at finding a cancer cure, right? What Adam is saying is that life goes on. Waiters go on waiting. And suffering. And restaurant patrons are all mean and don’t tip enough. It’s probably true that customers can be downright offensive to servers, but there’s more to restaurant life than these clichés, surely? In the Weeds offers no real insight into life the waiter’s life, simply rehashing the same old mid-20s anxieties in a seemingly random and ultimately purposeless environment.