Boiling Point Synopsis: On the busiest night of the year at one of the hottest restaurants in London, charismatic, commanding head chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) balances along a knife’s edge as multiple personal and professional crises threaten to destroy everything he’s worked for.
Bristling with intense passion and perfectionist platting, the fiery infernos of kitchen life is always apt for big-screen interpretations. Unfortunately, most kitchen-made features continue to reduce the work-hard-play-hard craft into Hollywood posturing.
Saccharine efforts like The Hundred-Foot Journey and No Reservation merely utilized cooking as a canvas for romantic melodrama – while the well-intended awards flop Burnt fell flat in its attempts to capture the industry’s dysfunctional underbelly. As someone with an odd affinity for cooking, I am delighted to report that writer/director Philip Barantini’s latest Boiling Point is one of the few to get the recipe right.
In a feature-length adaptation of his 2019 short film, Barantini opts for one-take framing to capture one hectic night in a luxurious kitchen. The single-take style can often be beneficial in its naturalism or obnoxious in its overwrought execution. Barantini thankfully finds the right balance, fluidly traversing through the restaurant staff’s varied perspectives with technical aplomb. Each frame boils with sweaty intimacy and frenetic movement, intensifying the onscreen drama without robbing the project of its rustic realism. Aside from a few vignettes that wander on like load screens, Barantini assures that his techniques never distract from the onscreen drama.
Boiling Point maintains another connection to its short film predecessor through star Stephen Graham. As the well-intended yet volatile chef, Graham commands the kitchen with the sturdy leadership of a well-worn cook. The skilled character actor pulls off the tough-love tutoring and vulgar rants of a true chef while also digging to the core of Andy’s foreboding malaise. Graham’s exhausted state lingers like a shadow over his restaurant staff, with the drained ensemble sharing overwhelming unhappiness with their dead-end jobs. Through the characters’ conjoined existence, Barantini and company create universal subtext around the grueling grind of working-class citizens within his largely unpretentious narrative.
Despite serving a satisfying dinner, Boiling Point can’t quite pull off the dessert. The narrative becomes more scripted as it goes along, drifting into Hollywoodized melodrama as the film tries too hard to excite viewers. Changing the narrative perspective from the chef’s slow unraveling to his underdeveloped co-workers robs dramatic weight from the film overcrowded second half. A fantastic finale helps mask some deficiencies, but it’s a bummer to see the film drift into theatrics that it so skillfully defies for its majority.
That said, Boiling Point deserves praise for honoring the day-to-day grind of his often misunderstood subjects. At its best, the film serves as an apt reflection of the overwhelming angst facing waves of overworked labor forces.