First of all, let's get something straight: there is definitely romance in this film, but there is absolutely NO ROMANCE ON THE MENU. Toast with toast does make an appearance though...
Romance on the Menu follows Caroline (Cindy Busby), a New York chef and restaurateur, who inherits the Australian café, 'The Seagull', from her great aunt Doreen, in the opening scenes. Caroline's mother, Denise, convinces her to travel to Australia and visit Aunt Doreen's café. It's honestly very clear in this moment that Denise isn't the family businesswoman. Here Caroline and Denise sit, in Caroline's prestigious New York restaurant 'Laboratoire', and Denise comes out with "Oh wow! How do you feel about expanding to Australia?" Seagull Cafe? Laboratoire? Same, same, right? We must thank Denise for this though, because without her persuasive prowess, we wouldn't have received the greatest rejection line ever:
Nathaniel: Let's grab a drink.
Caroline: I can't tonight. I have to go to Australia.
Upon arriving in Lemon Myrtle Cove, viewers are plagued with Australiana. There's QANTAS! 13Cabs! Australia Post! The café staff want this meeting over quick, because they have to get home in time for Neighbours. But also, the café staff need to up their game, because the patrons are "as hangry as horse flies". And then there's today's special...
She orders the snags. And...
That's how you finish it up? Vegemite on toast? By the by, these café staff are a fairly cheeky bunch. Caroline complains about the vegemite, and they have the audacity to tell her that she used too much! For $7.50, I would hope that the chef, could spread my vegemite thanks!
I'm not actually sure who all of this Australiana is for. When Taika Waititi included some Australian/New Zealand Easter eggs in Thor: Ragnarok, it was kind of fun. It didn't interrupt the delivery of the story (in my opinion), but if you were looking, you might have heard the word "commodore" or seen references to the Maori flag or the Australian Aboriginal flag and felt a twinge of excitement. References to vegemite, meat pies and Neighbours, albeit well-intentioned, feel like they are written into the script, more so for foreign audiences than for locals. Particularly when you include the likes of pavlova and fish and chips, just to upset our cousins across the ditch, or when you insist on calling a 'Queenslander' a "cottage" in shot after shot. Surely there was a way to teach this foreign visitor what a Queenslander is?
My favourite part of this film, would probably have to be the performances of Tim Ross and Naomi Sequeira. On so many occasions, Aussie performers appear as caricatures on film, or the accents are overdone. Ross and Sequeira are able to be Australian, and also be believable at the same time. It sounds silly, but whenever I hear the words "Australian" and "film" together, I brace myself for Russell Coight. (Don't get me wrong, there is definitely a place in the world for Russell Coight! Coight-ish behaviour can be a little jarring though, in a rom-com where all of the other actors are playing it fairly straight). It's certainly true however, that not all of the actors give performances on par with Ross and Sequeira. I think that at times though, it's the script that gets in the way of a better delivery. Caroline's mother's constant barrage of lines that vouch for suitor Nathaniel, are a perfect example of this. In these moments, Denise's obsession with Nathaniel is comparable to Claudette's obsession with Johnny.
Additionally, this film deserves credit for its use of colour. Australia, or more specifically, Shorncliffe, looks beautiful in every shot because of the way that the colour grade has been executed. Australia is made to look like a warm and sunny paradise, where it definitely doesn't get too hot, or too humid and is always comfortable... It's definitely a lie, but it's an appealing one nonetheless.
Pictured: How's the serenity?
Pictured: Australia in a movie, versus Australia in real life.
This film was produced on a low budget. To be fair, at times this is barely noticeable, and at other times, it could not be more apparent. My favourite one of these moments was definitely when Marla and Dale leave a conversation with the line, "Oh, I love this song!" even though the only music that can be heard, is the score. Did Dale go full meta and ask Marla to dance with him to the score? This conversation also starts with the words, "Good evening, Caroline" and when this occurs, it is most definitely not even close to evening. Why did you double down on this script choice, Dale? Okay, so this has nothing to do with budgetary constraints, but I assumed that their intention was to film this scene in the evening but maybe they ran out of time/money?
The most noticeable money saver, was the habit of calling to characters off-screen for odd jobs to be completed. Simon was seen doing this often, but the wider cast also dove into exposition on more than one occasion about what other characters were getting done, off-screen (and away from the set where they'd need to be paid for fetching brooms and fixing electricity).
You don't want to hear my banal assessment of money-saving ventures on the set of Romance on the Menu though, do you? You want to hear about the romance, right? There is plenty of that, and I'm not going to dive into it too much, as it isn't really my cup of tea. However, if it's yours, then rest assured, I'm certain that you'll love this tale. Oh fine, I'll give you a hint! Here's a little shot from the end...but who ends up together? You'll never know! ...unless you watch it...
You can catch Romance on the Menu on Netflix.