REVIEW: The Girl in the Café [2005]

“I fear you’d think less of her if she were with me”

David Yates’ UK television film The Girl in the Café shows what is capable of being made across the Atlantic for the small screen. Whereas in America we get movie of the weeks and after school special morality tales, the British prove that tv should not be looked upon as inferior to the silver screen. Kudos to HBO for seeing the quality put into this tale and releasing it on its channel; I guess airing on a pay channel means a bit more than debuting on network tv in the public’s eyes. Finally I see the talent that Yates has, after being quite under-whelmed with his latest entry to the Harry Potter franchise. Let’s give mention to screenwriter Richard Curtis, as well though, for his words are what make the film as powerful as it is—with a little help from its two leading actors as vessels for them.

We have an older gentlemen, a financial researcher for the Chancellor of England, who, on a break from his hectic all work no play life, meets a young girl in a café. The two have an awkward moment drinking tea and coffee respectively and eventually make a date to meet again for lunch. This relationship is portrayed as strangely as it would be in real life. The older man doesn’t quite know what the woman’s motives are; does she see him as a friend, a father figure, or a lover? With that kind of confusion, each moment with the two of them is an adventure of uncomfortable tension, sexually and emotionally. This aspect is very integral to the way in which the film plays out, and with lesser actors, it could have failed miserably. Thankfully we have the radiant Kelly MacDonald and the consummate professional Bill Nighy. In a role that is the exact opposite to his part in Curtis’ Love Actually, complete with a dream telling of a life he wished to have lived being the one he does in that film, Nighy is remarkable as the isolated businessman who has lost his way in social situations. The ticks we are used to seeing in his performances are very prevalent and his skittishness around the girl he is falling for is true and real. As for MacDonald, she never strays from the broken woman she is playing. We learn very little about her character’s past, but what we do find out tells us the reasons for everything she does. Sometimes fate has a way of playing tricks on us. Both these people needed each other at that point in their lives to show them how to live again in a world that is on the quick spiral down the drain. Her past makes it seem as though what she does was premeditated, but “the facts aren’t there.” Her being thrust into the situations she becomes privy to is coincidence, and she would not be able to live with herself if she didn’t try and take advantage.

What I originally thought would be a pretty cut and dry love story ends up being very much more. The bond forged between our two leads is paramount to what transpires if only to allow us to understand how it could have been able to go as far as it does. We don’t ever get to know if what MacDonald’s character says will have any bearing on the G8 Conference she has been at, but that is the only ending I could ever see as fitting the film that lies before it. Through all the turmoil of a love affair between two people around 30 years apart in age, we are also given the strife of the world trying to come up with a plan to stop poverty. The politics are a huge part of the tale and while it does push an agenda, it does it in a way that progresses the plot. This is not a message movie for that effect alone; it is a tale of love and awakening in the world of political agendas and meetings. For that I credit all involved, because they never fall into the trap of patronizing or forcing the audience in any way. What is instead shown is a powerful film of the meaning of morals and right and wrong and how unexpected meetings can change the course of history. With one of the most emotional endings in a movie that I have seen in some time, it is also the sweetest little gem of cinema I’ve enjoyed during that same duration.

The Girl in the Café 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


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