Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: EAT WITH ME: David Au’s Debut Is Bland [LAFF 2014]

Sharon Omi Teddy Chen Culver Eat With Me

Eat With Me (2014) Film Review from the 20th Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by David Au, and starring Sharon Omi, Teddy Chen CulverNicole SullivanGeorge Takei, Aidan Bristow, Ken NarasakiScott Keiji TakedaBurt Grinstead, and Amy Tolsky.

Have you ever seen a film that, all things considered, should have earned your admiration and respect, despite its inevitable flaws, but you can’t rationalize or excuse just how bad it is? For me, this was one of those films.

The film comes to us from director David Au, whose many hats include producer, writer, and editor. It’s based on Fresh Like Strawberries (2003), a short film he created that aired on LOGO over ten years ago. Sharon Omi and Teddy Chen Culver reprise their roles as mother and son, respectively, estranged and trying to reconnect in his fleshing out of that short story in his debut feature-film, Eat With Me, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June 2013.

After her cold, distant husband, Ray (Ken Narasaki), cuts off his “headache-inducing” wedding band, it proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Emma (Sharon Omi), who packs a single suitcase and travels to her estranged son Elliot’s (Teddy Chen Culver) struggling Chinese restaurant. There, she surprises him with the news that she needs a place to stay, no questions asked. Awkward and reluctant, but loyal, he allows her to take over his bed while he sleeps on the couch. The minute she steps into his apartment, however, she unleashes a soft but persistent criticism of his ways of living. Their only shared interest is food, and Elliot could use some help from his mother in spicing up the menu of his restaurant, which is threatened financially. As they slowly, but carefully, bridge the generational and cultural divide that separates them – and after she discovers his heretofore hidden sexuality – they learn to speak to each other in the only way they know how: great food.

The story is well-thought out and has great potential for some genuine moments, but the execution – most of which can be reasonably explained by the production’s budget – handicaps the film from really taking off. It seeks to be seen as an “LGBT film” without being an “LGBT film”; mainly, that the story contains elements attracting an LGBT audience while at the same time avoiding the many traps of LGBT cinema: stereotypes, poor scripts, narrow narrative focus, etc… Due to its potential, it’s surprising that the film still feels as if it was released by TLA Releasing; it features amateurish production value complemented by “wooden” acting. It feels awkward and without a cohesive framework to move the story along; the result is a weak film with a poor script that struggles to achieve the emotional weight it desires to convey, which feels rather forced.

The film does achieve a high point, however, when Emma accidentally ingests some ecstasy belonging to her son’s outgoing neighbor, Maureen (MADtv‘s Nicole Sullivan). While it doesn’t feel entirely authentic, it at least injects some liveliness to the otherwise boring proceedings. It’s also the scene that allows Sharon Omi to prove her acting abilities, and it’s infectious how liberated she seems to be given the chance.

If the director can somehow manage to lock down a bigger budget and superior script for his next film, I think he has the ability to produce a fine film. It’s not the chef, it’s the recipe, that needs adjustment.

Rating: 3/10

Leave your thoughts on Eat With Me and this review below in the comments section. For more Eat With Me photos, videos, and information, please visit our Eat With Me page, subscribe to us by email, follow us on TwitterTumblr, or “like us” on Facebook.


About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

  • JaysonColeman

    I like your blog but I gotta say I disagree with you on this one. I was at the screening on Sunday and I really enjoyed the film and thought it had a lot of heart! Didnt find it boring or wooden at all. I actually thought it was one of the strongest films I had seen over the weekend at LAFF

  • Drew Stelter

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the movie! There really is something for everyone; this just happened to not fit my fancy.

    Thank you for liking my film reviews and/or my weekly column!

  • Kevin Bradley

    I agree. Watched it last night on Netflix and found it a lot of fun. What the reviewer calls wooden acting was the actors (mother, son & father) expressing characters that are unable to express themselves to each other. Compare those characters to the neighbor or the love interest, Ian, and it becomes obvious.

  • Michael Estoy

    This review misses the mark in a major way by not touching more deeply on the central theme of the movie: reconciling filial traditional Asian values with the experiences of being a gay, first generation Chinese-American. Unfortunately, there are scant movies to compare this to with regard to the Asian culture.

    As a first-generation Filipino-American, this could easily have been about me as I still try to figure out my otherness in a world where expectations of Asians is disparate. Had the writer researched more of the dynamics of East and Southeast Asian cultures, greater focus could have been paid to the nuances generally unknown to the public.

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