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The Dark (Chocolate) Side

Patient: Chocolat

Profile: Adult fairy tale set in charming French village where mysterious stranger's appearance and preparation of exotic foods beguile charming villagers with many magical and charming outcomes while butting up against the village's charmingly backward customs. Now, which foreign-set film does this remind you of? Did you say all of them? Think Like Water for Chocolate meets Babette's Feast and goes quantity surveying with Cinema Paradiso.

Symptoms: For some reason, people have mistaken time-worn characters (Judi Dench's gruff-but-lovable village elder could just as easily have been played by Ed Asner), telegraphed storylines and lame dialogue ("Why do you give a damn what these narrow-minded villagers think?") for subtlety and warmth. This is contrived and dull. So, here's a word for the producers: conflict. It's in all the drama books. It's what drives character and plot. We're told from the start that this village doesn't take kindly to those who go against the grain—like eating chocolate during Lent. But when people do eat chocolate during Lent, nothing happens to them. We figure out real quick that the uptight patriarch of the town is really a good guy who will eventually come over to the dark chocolate side in the requisite orgiastic, feeding-frenzy scene. We know that the only person who'll do anything really bad is the guy who's not that charming and appears to be retarded—Corky of Life Goes On retarded. What we have here is a story about consequences without the consequences. Like watching Robert Downey Jr. home movies with French accents.

Diagnosis: Should have called it Like Watery Chocolat.

Prescription: Like Water for Chocolate was a similar but superior film because there was something at stake—love—and a battle not only between two well-written characters —mother and daughter—but also what they personified—old and new. Something has to be up for grabs here, something worth fighting for and against—small-mindedness, cruelty . . . It's France, for God's sake!

Prognosis: Give us something to chew on—real conflict—and you end up with a much yummier movie. The sweetest fruit is forbidden. Play to your strengths. When it comes to consequences, does anyone do it better than the French? Meet any nice Huguenots lately?


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