As anyone who has had the misfortune of working in food services will tell you, there are countless opportunities for mordant humor behind the scenes in a busy restaurant. For his feature directing debut, Michael Rauch pieces together a lightweight but appetizing sample platter of funny wait-staff horror stories. There is nothing particularly groundbreaking here — the situations and characters are all quite familiar — but thanks to an appealing cast, and a host of genuinely funny moments, “In the Weeds” more than succeeds at its modest ambitions. While it features slick tech credits and solid perfs from a cast of somewhat recognizable names, pic may nonetheless be too light a main course for a theatrical run. It should, however, make a perfect midnight snack on video or cable.
Scripter-helmer Rauch peoples his high-powered midtown restaurant with characters so schematic, it’s as if he were remaking “Gilligan’s Island” on the floor at Jean-Georges. There’s the preening would-be movie star (Michael Buchman Silver), the ever-eager naif (Ellen Pompeo) and the been-there-done-that vet (Molly Ringwald). When on the job, their lives seem to circle around Adam (Joshua Leonard), a starry-eyed, struggling playwright who can’t help but take his job too seriously. The waiters are terrorized by both the sadistic owner, Simon (Eric Bogosian), and the psychotic head chef, Kurt (Kirk Acevedo), who is quick to turn his knife on any waiter foolish enough to ask if the tuna appetizer can be prepared with the sauce on the side.
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But while these characters might start out as cliches, over the course of the night each one changes in some small but important way. The various plot threads involve, among other things, Adam’s inability to break free from his manipulative girlfriend and Simon’s tense courtship of a European investor. A romance blossoms, a diamond ring is lost, a creme brulee is ruined, and, most satisfyingly, the owner is put in his place. In lesser hands, this could be an episode of “Three’s Company,” but Rauch manages to imbue all the silliness with wit and a strong sense of compassion. As wacky as the situations become, they never take precedence over character.
While never loosing his story’s momentum, Rauch manages to give every member of the restaurant staff — even the busboys — a moment to shine, and his actors pay him back with nuanced, funny performances. Leonard, the first to you-know-what in “The Blair Witch Project,” makes the most of his opportunity to be a romantic lead. His Adam is the unerringly hopeful and moral center of the film. In the sardonic but fragile Chloe, Ringwald finds her ideal post-Brat Pack character. When she tearfully faces the fact that she will probably be waitressing for the rest of her life, it is a moment of sparkling and heartbreaking honesty.
There are stylistic flourishes — such as when the camera floats around the restaurant to each character in one long, slow-motion take — that would be at home in a film with three times this one’s budget. Indeed, tech credits are first-rate across the board, from the bright and airy music to the imaginative but realistic restaurant set.