The plot was unexpected because it is an American restaurant (to wit, an upper-scale Cracker Barrel) and half the people in the booths are British. This is not a place commonly populated by Europeans: rather, it is the sort of all-American place that people take their four-year-olds to eat at and the four-year-olds apply the crayons to the kids’ menus right away. Bright blue all over the word “Hamburger” and an orange snowman planted over the “Cheeseburger” description. And at the end of the night I am stuffing the masterpieces into families of beer glasses and regretfully dumping the pictures out, sorry there is no better graveyard for art then a trashcan full of old noodles.
So, all in all, I would give the plot pretty high marks for originality. Not exactly a Russian novel, but it had the production quality of a low-fi Woody Allen movie where everybody is rich and nothing happens. In the sense, not that everyone was rich, but that nothing happens.
Here are the characters: A table of British people with British teeth. None of them listen when I hold up their glasses (“I have a Heineken and a Whiskey Sour. Heineken, anybody? Nope, it’s mine then?”) so I end up accidentally mangling the drink order. Another couple, the man American, the woman British, talks in low-lit, campfire voices over Penne. Three chipper British men and one woman in a booth. An old man in a trench coat.
And two men at the bar, the same height, with the same football shoulders. One is balding and has a leather jacket and the other one curly hair and a curly beard and in every way, the magnetism of a JCrew Magazine man. He is sitting a knights-move away from the hostess stand, where I am bored and eating too many courtesy mints — my teeth, by the end of the shift, might actually fall out. He strikes up a conversation with a married couple and makes them laugh, though it is possible they are just asking him to pronounce “trousers.”
Every so often, he glances over — conceivably, because I am clearly staring — and we exchange small smiles. Half smiles are a fact so miniscule that neither party actually knows if they are happening — like dots on a screen, which could be punctuation or just flecks of dust. They, the smiles, have the quality of motel sheets and the staying power of bobby pins, but the effect of bridges and highways. In a way, halved-smiles are what it means to be homesick for someone else, and so in about five seconds it seems I have him all mapped out: the kind of person who owns Kurt Vile records, who enjoys parties (but not for too long), someone who owns a lot of socks and makes everyone else around them jealous because of how he occupies the love of every dog at the park.
I keep trying to tell the waitresses and food runners how remarkable it is that ALL BRITISH PEOPLE are here, which to me seems as amazing as if thirty Cameron Diaz’s were eating dinner here. The waitresses laugh and do not seem to think it is as amazing as it is.
I would give the soundtrack * star because it is all eighties music, but not the good kind.
I would give the ending **** stars, because nothing happens. But what it does is, form the shape of a question-mark, which is a shape that common life tends to take. You could go crazy trying to weld those question marks into periods and exclamation marks. Or you could appreciate how damn bodacious they are; how the curve turns like a body sleeping under sheets and is an umbrella to the small little dot below. Question marks are not Blockbuster; not rom-com nor, even, mystery. This, the precision of epilogues, is the great lie: real life epilogues are like sophisticated elevator mirrors which keep going and going and going, and in the future they will call that “history” or “time” but never in such damning corpus letters “THE END.”
The lighting, though? Fantastic. It gets ***** stars. The dark of the street falls long between our two restaurants so that that the lights of the Japanese Restaurant across the street rectangle into a long, bright billboard of quiet eating. Done with work, I put my hood up and check for cars before I cross the street.
“Oh, hello again, what’s up.” (says a British voice from across the street). It belonged to leather-jacket-football-shoulders man.
“Hi! Is there some kind of British thing going on?”
“British thing! Not as far as I know. Why, are there others in there?”
“So many. I seated so many I thought there was an English… thing.”
“Nope, not that I was invited to.” He laughed. “I bet those blokes were not as great as me and my brother, eh?” (I am not lying, and this is not because I just watched Love Actually he did say “bloke” and also “eh”).
We talked for a few minutes and did not resolve the British invasion, and then I put my hood up, said bye, and only hesitated about five squares of sidewalk away to yell back “Tell your brother he is super, super attractive.”
I probably chose the wrong brother. But he laughed “Oh, I’ll pass that along.”
Here is what happened to me: I met up with my friends, we got drinks and talked and went to get french fries and were all in bed by twelve.
Here is what might have happened to them: Leather Jacket went back into the restaurant, told his brother what I said and they both laughed and a minute later he went outside to call his girlfriend (Shirley? Let’s call her Shirley) and they talked about their days and as he was standing outside it occurred to him that he wanted to propose to her and much later, he will. It will be a super gorgeous church wedding. The kids will watch the wedding video as if it is as amazing as The Incredibles, because it is. Incredible. And because their mother Shirley is an artist, they will make drawings at restaurants that really are masterpieces.
Here is why there might have been thirty British people who didn’t know each other at my restaurant: all the Cameron Diaz’s were busy that night.
In the end, it was a poorly constructed plot, but in the beginning it was everything because everything is a plot, and in the middle it was made up of dirty dishes and teeth and eighties music. And the critics loved it. They went wild. They said it was riveting and an evocative human drama about the mundane, yet magical human condition. A globalized miniature of a shrinking world, said one. You get the gist. They reflected, however (not understanding that it was real life) that Paul Rudd would have been a better choice to play Leather Jacket, and I did not disagree.