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Not The Man I Dreamt I Might Be When I Was Young

December 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after yet another person with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for nine more films with similar themes, “Laundromat”, “Love Triangle” and “Shaving Legs” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

The Girl in the Café (2005)
Directed by David Yates
Written by Richard Curtis
Produced by Hilary Bevan Jones
93 minutes

Desaturated of artificial sweeteners and preservatives, The Girl in the Café is lean, thoughtful and a small work of beauty, another exhibit in the case that TV has overtaken feature films in terms of quality. A co-founder of the U.K.’s Comic Relief charity and supporter of Make Poverty History — which pushed for debt relief, aid and trade to the Third World — screenwriter Richard Curtis sought to marry the world of politics with his other passion: the romantic comedy. The creator of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, Curtis had a mainstream Hollywood production in mind, with a star like Jack Nicholson falling in love with his political contrarian at the United Nations. But Curtis discovered the faster production schedule of television would get the film finished in time for the G8 summit in Scotland, where extreme poverty was to be the focus.

Opting to make The Girl in the Café the highlight of a broadcast season raising awareness for global poverty, BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey financed the picture for £2 million, roughly $3.8 million USD. Producer Hilary Bevan Jones sought out David Yates, director of British television’s State of Play and Sex Traffic. Jones’ production company Tightrope Pictures produced the film with BBC and HBO, which aired it June 2005. In contrast to Love Actually, which Richard Curtis tricked out with every bell and whistle in the North Pole, The Girl in the Café settles into an everyday grace that surpasses anything he’s written for the screen. With a smaller scale, the Hugh Grant & Julia Roberts parts are played instead by Bill Nighy & Kelly Macdonald. Much more subdued and far more believable than a couple of stars would have been, Nighy & Macdonald are blissful to watch flourish in leading roles.

A statistician named Lawrence (Bill Nighy) breaks for tea at a café in Piccadilly Square. The crowd forces him to share a table with Gina (Kelly Macdonald), a young woman also taking her tea alone. Lawrence offers that he’s employed at Downing Street in work that requires “a lot of paper, a lot of pens”. Gina reveals little more than she does nothing and is a student of sorts. The conversation flows well enough for the socially awkward Lawrence to ask Gina to dinner before returning to work, where his boss, Chancellor of the Exchequer (Ken Stott) and his staff prepare for an economic summit. As Lawrence and Gina get to know each other over inedible pea soup and other delights, Lawrence reveals that he’s headed to a shindig in Reykjavik, Iceland known as the G8 conference, where the leaders of the free world hammer out policy for the next year.

Offering that they could both learn some new facts about Iceland, Lawrence invites Gina to accompany him to the summit. He suffers the embarrassment of realizing the room they’ve been booked only has one bed, but Gina offers to sleep on the couch so the numbers cruncher can be refreshed for negotiations. The British push for an ambitious resolution on debt, aid and trade to Africa, but see that vision pared down due to resistance by the Americans. While Lawrence suffers impending defeat quietly, Gina implores those she meets not to shrink from their responsibility to save the lives of millions. Urged to send the troublemaker home, Lawrence finds he is unable to. He vouches for her behavior and invites the girl in the café to a reception for the British prime minister, where Gina’s inability to sit silent on the issues has major consequences for their relationship.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average: Not available

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

What do you say?

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Midlife crisis · No opening credits · Road trip · Unconventional romance

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.D. // Dec 30, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Not surprisingly, Kelly Macdonald makes this film for me and she is so good. Up until this point it seemed like she had done so many supporting roles so it was great to see her get a meaty leading role. If you like her in this I would also recommend checking 2 FAMILY HOUSE which is a touching, bittersweet romance and she is fantastic in it.

  • 2 Joe Valdez // Jan 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    J.D.: I discovered The Girl in the Cafe through a recommendation from Wes Lambert, so thanks for recommending Two Family House. It looks like a good double feature with City Island, which I haven’t seen either. Watching character actors like Macdonald or Nighy get that rare lead role is almost always a treat. This movie didn’t disappoint. Thanks for commenting!

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