It’s not uncommon for artists of any kind to go off the rails or be driven mad by critics. Vincent Gallo is famous for lashing out at Roger Ebert for his bashing of “Brown Bunny,” producers like Avi Arad and studios are known for bashing critics that bash their work, and in 2010, Kevin Smith just sank in to the deep end after the critical destruction of “Cop Out.” But while “Bitter Feast” is a commentary on pushing people too far, it’s also a look at what happens when two bitter absolutely pretentious men meet and decide they’re going to make each other suffer for their lives’ miseries. While many will be quick to deem this as a satire of the critical world, director Joe Maggio actually spoofs both sides of the field, the artist and the critic. Or in this film, the pompous pretentious artist who takes his work much too seriously, and the critic who refuses to be honest and or kind and just wants to purposely play a heel for the sake of publicity and readership.
Peter Grey is a chef who takes his job much too seriously. Although he is a very talented and much sought after cooking personality, thanks to food blogger JT Franks lambasting his restaurant’s delicacies, he is on the cusp of ruin. His co-host for his cooking show refuses to work with him due to his inability to find humor in cooking, and his restaurant is now losing customers. In an effort to win back his fan base and savor the final days of his show before it’s canceled, Grey takes measures and kidnaps JT Franks. Through this small incident he introduces Franks to his madness and sends him in to a dive in to Grey’s world that involves exhaustive preparation of food, an insane peek in to the intricate process of cooking, and consequences involving torture and humiliation that Grey is convinced will bring Franks in to a world of optimism and understanding of the cooking world.
Though Maggio’s film is intent on lambasting both worlds of the critical and artistic, “Bitter Feast” is firmly entrenched in the horror dark comedy arena where the battle between both Grey and Franks turns in to a war of spite and stubbornness rather than one man trying to win over the other. Franks is too pigheaded to bow to Grey’s incessant badgering of understanding food, while Grey is too uptight to let his criticism go hoping to accomplish a common ground that may never be achieved. James LeGros is delightfully despicable as the unhinged Grey who refuses to ease up on his view as food preparation being a strict art, and we’re given insight in to his passion throughout the film and his obsession with finely tuned food kitchen maintenance. Joshua Leonard is also quite good as the morally grey absolutely bitter Franks who is both sympathetic and unlikable constantly shifting in ideals and opinions that keep him a protagonist the audience also struggles to come to terms with.
There’s also a fine supporting performance from Amy Seimitz as character Franks’ long suffering wife, and Megan Hilty as Grey’s grating co-host who loathes Grey to the point of demeaning him on television. Both men, though, are fantastic in their roles and truly strive to deliver an experience that’s bold and demented on many wave lengths keeping the film balanced between torture porn and tongue in cheek comedy. “Bitter Feast” had every chance to be a missed opportunity, but it’s an entertaining spoof of the critical culture I got a kick out of. One aspect of the story that is never made clear to the audience is what Grey is trying to accomplish with the kidnapping and torture. There’s never an indication of his final plan and what he would do to resolve this crime. Was he planning to kill JT Franks? Was he planning to keep him in his basement forever? Was he planning to garner a change of heart in his review?
Would he have let him go? The fact that there is never an answer makes “Bitter Feast” feel aimless in the end, and our villain all too random. As for the final scene it felt much too overly clever to be thought of as ironic for the audience and it left “Bitter Feast” feeling as if it fizzled rather than come to a close. As for the supporting performance from Larry Fessenden, the film could have worked with or without him. His character feels painfully shoehorned in to the premise, and he never serves a purpose beyond being a foil for villain Grey and adding nothing to the fate of our protagonists. Sure it’s not a masterpiece, but “Bitter Feast” is very worthy of a viewing from horror fans who like their entertainment with appropriate amounts of gore, grue, and dark comedy. Performances from Joshua Leonard and James LeGros are fantastic, and director Joe Maggio really does serve up a tasty dish that puts both sides of the critical world under the microscope.
The DVD features a twenty nine minute “Making Of” special exploring the beginnings of “Bitter Feast” and how producer Larry Fessenden eventually stumbled on to director Joe Maggio’s script for it. There’s also a seven minute interview with chef Mario Batali, who has a short walk-on role as a restaurateur. He sheds some interesting insight on the truthfulness behind “Bitter Feast” on how internet bloggers are becoming more and more powerful and are indeed having an impact on the food industry. Batali is very informative in spite of only allowing ten minutes for the interview, and it’s a great nugget for fans of the iconic chef. There’s also a great short still reel featuring portraits of the characters of the film in their states of distress. There’s finally a six minute reel of deleted scenes and an alternate ending that are interesting but don’t add much to the overall film. The alternate ending is different, but I’m not sure if it’s better. That’s for the audience to decide.