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Cooking with Stella (2009)

by on 2013/04/21

Cooking_With_Stella_2009“He is my boss – big boss from Canada.”

* * *

Think Ratatouille meets The Grifters meets Mr. Mom.

Okay, maybe that’s not *exactly* right.

I guess Ratatouille is a cartoon, with an animated rat giving cooking lessons to an aspiring human chef. The Grifters is a movie about con artists, but the stakes are a bit more stabby in that bloody film about a family (of sorts) on the take. Mr. Mom is a light-hearted take on gender roles starring Michael Keaton (Batman).

Cooking with Stella takes some of these raw ingredients and mixes them with a liberal helping of cultural misunderstanding, some nice little character touches and lovely pictures of food. The result is a promising but somewhat bland dish with just the slightest bittersweet undertaste.

I saw this movie first on the CBC. When I laid my eyes on Don McKellar, I stopped my flicking and watched the first act with interest. I watched the remainder on Netflix weeks later. The story written by Deepa Mehta and director Dilip Mehta is a promising one about a Canadian couple who take a diplomatic post in India.

The wife – Maya Chopra played by Lisa Ray (Defendor) – heads off to work as a diplomat while her husband Michael Laffont cares for the couple’s young daughter in the walled Canadian diplomatic compound. He’s got company in the form of a maid Stella Elizabeth Matthews played by the terrific Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen).

Stella is a devout Christian and fabulous cook, who is also an inveterate thief, scamming her blithely unaware, unfailingly trusting Canadian bosses.

McKellar (Last Night), for his part, seems alternately bored, peevish and naively sweet throughout. I wondered if he was simply trying to capture of ennui of sanitized comfort in a gated community, or was he really was bored with the role? I love Don McKellar very much, this just wasn’t his finest hour.

Overall, Maya and Michael are an uncomfortable couple to watch, bickering about childcare, boredom, missing jewelry, career path development and other assorted First World problems – all the more unsympathetic given these arguments are set in the Third World.

The real interest comes in watch Stella play out her short and long cons, gambling, auctioning off Canadian delicacies like beer and canned spaghetti to the highest bidder.

There is similarly a wonderful subplot with the seemingly wide-eyed and hapless nanny named Tannu, played by the gorgeous Shriya Saran, and Anthony, Stella’s godson, played Vansh Bhardwaj.

Some nice little twists, a standout performance from Biswas, score by Oscar-award-winning Mychael Danna (Life of Pi) and Amritha Vaz (500 Days of Summer), some seriously lovely tours of New Delhi markets, a cameo by the late, great elder statesman of Canadian cinema Maury Chaykin (On Their Knees), all make this an interesting, if slightly cartoonish, essay on the merits of Canadian kindness.

Are we really such loveable chumps, we Canadians? Would Indians steal us six ways from Sunday simply to break free from the endemic poverty of India? These thoughts worried me as I watched, stars shedding from my five-star scale.

So in conclusion, I say, come for the McKellar, and stay for entertainingly amoral maid Stella and her food.

* * *

104 minutes

Rated G

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  1. A Geek’s Month in Review: April 2013 | Geek vs Goth

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