The Food Club (M, 99 minutes), 2 stars
As our population ages, there is a notable shift in the number of films made for and getting cinema releases targeted at that older audience. Once upon a time, films like Cocoon or Driving Miss Daisy or On Golden Pond found audiences because they were good, but also because they stood out amongst the tsunami of films designed for the youth market.
But just the last year or two shows septuagenarians and octogenarians leading the box office with films including The Good Liar, The Mule, The Farewell, Going in Style, The Irishman, Book Club and a handful of other films that might have featured older lead characters but enjoyed broad demographic appeal.
Danish film The Food Club appeals to this older market, and doesn't bother with any frivolous younger characters in an attempt for broader appeal.
Danish director Barbara Topsoe-Rothenborg begins her film in Denmark but soon moves the action to the warm colours and sunlit locales of the Italian countryside as two friends rally around their childhood best friend experiencing the breakdown of her marriage.
Two of Rothenborg's three lead actors might be familiar to audiences who indulge in Nordic Noir shows on SBS.
Kirsten Olesen (from The Bridge) is Marie, not only wife to but also secretary of the philandering Henrik (Peter Hesse Overgaard). When he tells her at a family Christmas dinner that he has had enough of their marriage and wants a break, she is devastated. Not only has she lost her husband, she's also suddenly unemployed.
Turning to her childhood friends Berling (Stina Ekblad from Wallander) and Vanja (Kirsten Lehfeldt) for comfort, she offers them a gift voucher for a week in a cooking school in the Italian countryside that was bought for her and her former husband. The two friends convince her to join them as a threesome and that good food and good wine might make her forget her troubles.
In a way they're right, but poor Marie has a lot of stuff to work through, and in the process she puts her friends and the other patrons of the culinary school through the business.
Not only Marie has issues to deal with. Berling appears to have a carefree life but has a difficult time with her grown daughter, and Vanja still hasn't moved on from her long-dead husband.
Meanwhile at the culinary school, the other guests include an uptight city couple, and a sweet ageing charmer (Troels Lyby) who has eyes for Vanja.
I'm a big sucker for films that entwine their narratives around food. It gives the director, cinematographer and art direction teams carte blanche to visually seduce their audience. Think back to those quails in rose petal sauce from Like Water for Chocolate or Isabella Rossellini cutting into that luscious timballo of penne and goat ragu from Big Night.
The makers of The Food Club miss a big opportunity by focusing on the drama and allowing the food to come second place. It did make me hungry for a big bowl of pasta, though. And wine. Once the film moves to Italy, the daily menu frames the five days like mini episodes. The endlessly patient chef Alessandro (Michele Venitucci) tries to teach his class to move away from the recipe and feel their way through the construction of their food.
It's a good lesson for the characters to follow, and each comes to the realisation at their own pace. As the message underlying Anne-Marie Olesen's screenplay, it is relevant to audiences of every age. You can plan life all you want, but if you don't take the time to feel it, what use was all that planning?
The actresses all give strong performances, but it is hard to warm to lead Olesen's Marie, who is consistently self-centred throughout the film. But then, we all have friends like that and we still manage to love them.
There are a few scenes of delightful high jinx that audiences will love, and other attempts at comedy that feel forced, but a visit to the cinema shared with a good friend and a glass of Chablis would make the The Food Club a fun afternoon.