A satisfying little gem that hits the spot
by David Duprey That Moment In
Off The Menu is a 2018 romantic comedy about an unlikely heir to a Mexican fast-food franchise who goes ‘cuisine’ hunting for the next culinary big thing, and finds himself in a small, dusty New Mexican town.
Our cultural fascination with food and food preparation as entertainment seems to have no bounds with the steady supply of good looking people in the kitchen whipping up all kinds of drama and romance, Admittedly, most are harmless fun, bits of reliable ingredients that when put together are, by their very nature, satisfying. Such is the case with Jay Silverman’s latest Off The Menu, a pleasant little indie romance set in the American southwest that follows the recipe pretty closely, delivering just what it intends.
Joel (Santino Fontana) is a dedicated guy, at least to himself. His latest motivation is training for a triathlon, which has him doing a ‘cleansing’, meaning he’s eating and exercising to be in the tip physical shape. He’s so committed to it, he loses his girlfriend Lauren (Jen Lilley), but what’s worse, he’s been given a new assignment at work. What’s work? Well he’s on the board of Tortilla Hut, a fast food chain run by his family, and his sister Stacey (Kristen Dalton) is in charge. Sales are dripping and they need to make a shift so, she sends Joel to New Mexico to find a new taste. Unhappy with the prospect, he eventually ends up stranded in the middle of quant little village meets single mom Javiera (Dania Ramirez), owner of a family restaurant who is locally famous for her specialized eats. Guess what happens next.
You really can’t blame Silverman and screenwriter Jennifer Goldson for dipping deep into the well, the premise a trusty lot is almost guaranteed to work. Pitching in all the standards, it finds it’s groove absolutely because of it’s leads, with both Fontana and Ramirez hitting all the right beats, he convincing as a man in need of some change and she a homespun gal with loads of charm. The thing is, and you might be thinking what I was about a half hour into the movie - that this is your basic, run -of-the-mill romcom - it’s actually a little more. After the decidedly obvious start that plays ABC with the story, it settles into the meet cute and builds a relationship that feels warmly authentic.
While it may telegraph much of what’s coming with all the signposts you’re used to, it’s well designed in doing so, purposefully aiming to be a safe and comfortable romance. There’s Javiera’s lovingly meddling mother (the great Maria Conchita Alonso), and an adorable kid, Javiera’s daughter Sophia (Makenzie Moss), who provides a (somewhat forced) hero moment for Joel, and of course, a villain who is necessarily so in helping she and Joel get closer. I think what really helps too is the locale, with plenty of colorful culture and assorted characters that keep it light and breezy yet entertaining, a packaged fairy tale that you’ve seen before and probably will again. Still, Off The Menu is a satisfying little gem that hits the spot.