You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Barista’

Rock Baijnauth's playful and endearing documentary follows four contenders on the competitive coffee-brewing circuit.

Charlie Habegger, Eden-Marie Abramowicz, Ryan Redden, Truman Severson, Charles Babinski.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4651932/

The latest edition in a widening mini-genre of competition documentaries about the depths of devotion inspired by subcultures few people even know exist (“Spellbound,” “Wordplay,” “Kings of Pastry”), “Barista” introduces the world to the competitive espresso-maker circuit, profiling five enterprising young baristas as they vie for a painstaking national title. Anyone who has ever uttered the word “hipster” as a pejorative is advised to steer far clear, but thanks to director Rock Baijnauth’s playful, nonjudgmental approach to these obsessive characters, the whole enterprise comes across as endearingly — and perhaps even admirably — ridiculous, rather than laughably so.

The film initially spotlights four competitors headed to the 2013 National Barista Championships in Boston: Chicagoan Charlie Habegger and Angelenos Eden-Marie Abramowicz, Ryan Redden and Truman Severson. As the film progresses, it widens to include a fifth: Charles Babinski, a simultaneously low-key and cocky L.A. competitor spoken of in tones of hushed awe by his compatriots. He boasts a pair of flagship coffee shops and an endorsement deal with Krups, even though he’s never managed to finish higher than second in national competitions.

And how, exactly, does one take part in a barista competition? The main event gives each challenger 15 minutes to prepare a trio of beverages for a four-person judging panel — one espresso, one cappuccino, and one specialty drink of their own devising – all the while keeping up a steady patter about the origins of their coffee and their own espresso-pulling philosophies. (Participants seem to be overwhelmingly in their 20s and early 30s, with women favoring tattoos and hairstyles of the 1920s, and men reviving facial hair trends of the 1910s.) Approaches to the performance vary: While Abramowicz reads psychology texts to help her nail the presentation element of the competition, Redden and Severson put all their chips on their specialty beverages, experimenting with liquid nitrogen and moonshine-style coffee distillery.

In truth, the fussy techniques and arcane tasting notes these baristas espouse are no sillier than what goes on in the more self-serious corners of the wine world, though the rules of the competition seem more than a little arbitrary. (And the sight of not one but two solemn competition judges stooping down in unison to closely observe how evenly a barista tamps down on his coffee grounds is more than a little comical.) This is, after all, a film where people use phrases like “border-collie-like focus,” “latte art throwdown” and “a technique which was popular in Japanese warfare … ” to describe the act of serving coffee. It would almost be too easy to compare the whole film to Christopher Guest’s mockumentary “Best in Show,” even if one of the film’s subjects didn’t do so herself.

On the other hand, one certainly can’t fault their dedication, and there’s something to admire in their tireless commitment to learning and perfecting a craft, especially one that pays so little and affords even less social cachet. “Coffee is what I do,” says Habegger, annoyed by the default assumption that he’s simply biding his time at the cafe waiting for a casting callback, while another participant’s wife confesses, “It doesn’t really sound like a grown-up job.” Grown-up job or no, it’s hard to deny the passion that Habegger in particular brings to his testimonials — if only most grown-ups took their jobs so seriously.

Appropriately for a film about coffee, Baijnauth’s direction is zippy, energetic and colorful, and he respects the sincerity of his subjects without necessarily endorsing it. The finale at the Boston championship often resembles one of the many competition shows clogging the Food Network, yet the pic’s editing manages to introduce a degree of suspense all the same.

Film Review: 'Barista'

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, Nov. 5, 2015. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Samuel Goldwyn Films presentation of a Filmic production. Produced by Rock Baijnauth, Jason Rose, Roger Singh, Andrew Moniz, Jimmy Nguyen, Ramona Serletic. Executive producer, Christopher Kao.

Crew: Directed, written by Rock Baijnauth. Camera (color), Robert Kraetsch, Roger Singh; editors, Baijnauth, Singh, Andrew Moniz; music, C.A. Gabriel; sound, Tony Solis; visual effects, Eric Young.

With: Charlie Habegger, Eden-Marie Abramowicz, Ryan Redden, Truman Severson, Charles Babinski.

More Film

  • Steve James Chicago Story

    Participant Media Partners With Filmmaker Steve James on Documentary 'Chicago Story' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Participant Media is reteaming with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Steve James and his longtime production home, Kartemquin Films, on his latest documentary, “Chicago Story.” Participant Media will finance the project, which will be produced by James and Zak Piper. Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann will executive produce with Alex Kotlowitz and Gordon Quinn. James, Piper, and [...]

  • 'Metro 2033' Film Project Halted Because

    'Metro 2033' Film Project Halted Because 'A Lot of Things Didn't Work'

    It appears that MGM’s film adaptation of “Metro 2033” is no longer happening because “a lot of things didn’t work,” according to VG24/7. “Metro 2033” is a novel by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. It was also adapted into a series of successful survival horror shooters from video game publisher THQ and developer 4A Games in [...]

  • Jirga

    Film Review: 'Jirga'

    Buried within the closing crawl of writer, director, cinematographer and co-producer Benjamin Gilmour’s unfortunately cryptic but nonetheless fascinating debut film “Jirga” are shout-outs for security, political and cultural liaisons, as well as an Afghan film advisor. These credits speak, however quietly, to the no-doubt-delicate and clearly arduous making of a film that finds a guilt-ridden [...]

  • Fox Names Benjamin Bach Theatrical MD

    Fox Names Benjamin Bach MD for Germany, Replacing Vincent  De La Tour

    Twentieth Century Fox has upped Benjamin Bach to managing director, theatrical, for Austria and Germany. In Germany he takes over from the long-serving Vincent de la Tour who is leaving after 27 years. Bach has been MD of Fox’s operations in Austria since 2012 and he steps into his new, expanded, role immediately. He will [...]

  • Lois Smith

    Wes Anderson's 'The French Dispatch' Adds Lois Smith (EXCLUSIVE)

    Lois Smith has joined the cast of Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” Variety has learned. It continues a late-career resurgence for the 88-year-old stage and screen actress. Smith was nominated for a Gotham and Independent Spirit Award for her work in last year’s “Marjorie Prime,” a role that garnered her some of the best reviews [...]

  • Stephan James as Fonny and Brian

    Brian Tyree Henry Breaks Out Big in Jenkins' 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

    The final days of filming writer-director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk” were dedicated to moments that foreshadowed its entire plot: Having run into the recently incarcerated Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) on the streets of Harlem, the struggling artist Fonny (Stephan James) invites his friend back to his apartment for [...]

  • Dylan O'Brien, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett,

    Travis Knight on Getting the Call to Direct ‘Bumblebee’: ‘Did You Guys Get The Right Number?’

    “Bumblebee” director Travis Knight admits he couldn’t believe it when Paramount Studios and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura called him two years ago, asking him to helm the upcoming “Transformers” movie. “My initial question was, ‘Did you guys get the right number?'” Knight joked at Sunday’s premiere of “Bumblebee” at the Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. “You’ve seen [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content