Three things that make Jesse Zigelstein’s feature debut Nose to Tail successful. The first is the fact that they conceive of an ingenuous single day premise to keep the budget down and the tension high. The second is that they manage to procure some real actors in the form of leads Aaron Abrams (of Hannibal and Blindspot fame) and Lara Jean Chorostecki. The third is a killer score that makes this seems like an episode of Hell’s Kitchen.
In a sense, this is the one drawback of Nose to Tail. The film is a fascinating portrait of toxic masculinity, but to do so it decides to roll through the most obvious chef clichés. Abrams plays Daniel, a spiralling chef (and tortured “genius”) who has sunk a decade of his life into the development of a high-end restaurant. He is not a good person. He is virulent with his staff members, constantly tries to con vendors whose produce he needs, and sexually harasses his maître d’ Chloe (Chorostecki) who he is in a very inappropriate relationship with.
His empire is also hanging from a thread. Months overdue on the rent, and struggling to pay bills Daniel cannot seem to evolve. He sets up a desperate last gamble, where he invites a potential investor and old friend for a night of fine dining in the hopes that it will woo him to make a parachute payment. The thin façade he’s imposing must stay intact, but behind it he’s struggling. The only ones who can see it are us, the privileged audience; Chloe, who seems to understand that something is amiss; and sommelier Steven (Salvatore Antonio), the one possible conscience whose genuine concern may salvage some of what’s left.
Steven is a fascinating character. He and Daniel share a softer moment in the film when they track down a very expensive vintage wine hidden somewhere in Daniel’s private cellar. Steven offers Daniel an olive branch, a chance to talk through some of the problems he is facing. The sommelier is ultimately rebuffed. The wine comes full circle when just one glass remains and Daniel informs Steven that he should have it. Steven points out that the wine has changed so much since it was originally produced. It theoretically has aged and grown with time.
Daniel insists, and Steven finishes the bottle. To put it bluntly, Daniel is the old wine fresh and exciting. The world is the changed wine that has left him behind. The sense that Zigelstein wants to provide is that time has irrevocably changed everyone but our chief protagonist. The take no prisoners attitude that may have served him well in younger years has caused irrevocable damage to not only his relationship, but his own body.
It’d be tragic, if it didn’t feel so fleshed out. Abrams provides a full-bodied performance here. An interesting question for consideration is do we want Daniel to succeed. The film sets up such simple stakes, but he’s so gross it’s hard to root for his success. More likely, the film seems to just spiral out of control. Come dinner service, we’re so far into the thick of things that fate is ostensibly predetermined.
Visually, Zigelstein seems to be more preoccupied with nailing the rhythms of the script than with any form of visual panache. Nose to Tail is point-blank point and shoot cinema. Images do not stand out in this film; plot points do. Thusly, this isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. I believe that all films have room to find unique visuals, angles, and reoccurring motifs. These aren’t really present in this film.
But it’s a well-told story nonetheless. Nose to Tail is a prime candidate to be discovered randomly on a streaming service; something recommended to you because you watched Jon Favreau’s Chef. It may make a wonderful pairing, like a side dish you otherwise didn’t expect to be this good.
Director Jesse Zigelstein will be in attendance at the 6:40PM showing on opening night at the Carlton cinema here in Toronto for an introduction and post show Q&A!