It takes a viewer all of 2 minutes to realise that Boiling Point is not another "foodie" film romanticised to suit an audience who have never stood on the greasier side of the pass. For one, the opening scenes don’t include a smouldering and bestubbled Bradley Cooper, successfully paying a grievous penance through the shucking of an arbitrary number of oysters. Neither do they feature a jovial Jon Favreau, set - perhaps even more inexplicably – to find familial happiness in the back of a food truck. Instead, they focus on an utterly exhausted Stephen Graham, attempting – as we soon learn is his habit - to manage the present, by vowing to deal with it in the imminent future.
Of course this is unsustainable, but Stephen – playing head chef Andy Jones – has little choice. As with many who work in the hospitality industry, Andy’s relationships, health, and sanity come a clear second behind the wants, needs, and demands of paying customers. Of these, some prove more agreeable than others. On our early travels with the FOH staff we endure casual racism, a case of the now ubiquitous bluetick-enabled entitlement, and a smattering of unsolicited groping for good measure. In other words, the only way director Phil Barantini could have made the faux-clientele any more believable would have been by including the unmasked, non QR code scanning sweethearts who brighten every waiter’s shift. Although the fact Boiling Point wrapped just as Coronavirus struck the UK goes someway in excusing this omission.
There is little else Boiling Point fails to capture, both metaphorically and literally. By filming the action in a thrilling, singular take (take a bow Matthew Lewis) we are plunged straight into the milieu, experiencing the slights, stresses, and creaky camaraderie that define the hospitality industry first hand. Breathtaking as it is, the cinematography serves a higher purpose than simple immediacy, as it is in these early moments, when we hover nervously beside ill-mannered tables, or enjoy a snatched conversation on our way past the bar, that we as viewers identify ourselves as one of the staff as opposed to one of the clientele. The gravity of this subconscious decision should not be underestimated, as it facilitates the true purpose of Boiling Point; to debunk the sanitised myths built by popular depictions of service and replace them with the gritty, lived truth.
We are told that in order to understand someone we should walk a mile in their shoes. However, people who would willingly exchange a polished loafer for a food splattered croc are few and far between these days. Curiosity can only take us so far after all. Fortunately, Boiling Point allows the lifelong patron to experience ‘the other side’ of hospitality without having to roll up their sleeves and don an apron. Whilst the film cannot impart the aching tiredness, blistering burn marks, and frayed nerves, it does offer enough to pry even the most ignorant and unwilling of eyes wide-open. And when it does, the human cost of the industry will prove difficult to forget.
It is true that Andy’s restaurant does appear to be of a particularly high calibre, yet it would be naïve, and plainly incorrect to assume that the stresses portrayed in Boiling Point are limited to these establishments alone. Rather, the juxtaposition between the tranquil environment diners believe themselves in, and the flaming hellhole the staff know themselves in, is shared between all busy venues. I myself have witnessed co-workers brought to tears in both budget cocktail chains and comfortably middle class cafes alike. And I can confirm that whether dripping onto a bottle of overly sweetened Mai Tai premix, or a pile of fresh Jerusalem artichokes, the tears fell with equal anguish all the same.
Work is not all storeroom - or in the films case bathroom – sobbing. There are moments of light amongst the dark. Light which erupts brilliantly in Boiling Point; flashes of empathy, inspiration, and humour all bathing our cast with a fleeting golden hue. We shelter under the wing of a stern and capable Carly (Vinette Robinson), bear witness to a moment of moving maternal compassion, and revel in praise when it is received. Yet, these flashes, bright as they are, only serve to deepen the forthcoming murk, which in both film and industry is never far around the corner. As we climb the hierarchical ladder, laughter fades and smiles falter. Personal insecurities are joined by those of a financial nature, and a crushing stress seems to settle on our shoulders. It cannot be said that Boiling Point fails to provide ample warning of the risks associated with progressing in an industry that is built upon razor thin margins.
As with any nuanced serving, upon its conclusion Boiling Point leaves a number of differing impressions. Past and present hospitality staff will feel validated. Assured that the wounds inflicted upon them are real, and experienced by millions the world over. For any prospective employees it should prove as a dire, but accurate warning of an industry whose representation in film has been of the bipolar extremes. Finally, for the uninitiated, my only hope is that Boiling Point provides a well needed lesson that will make you treat us with the respect and humanity we deserve.