Burnt movie review: just one cook spoils this broth

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Burnt red light

A celebration of male obnoxiousness that goes warm and fuzzy over its temperamental manchild as he finally learns to impersonate a decent human being. What?
I’m “biast” (pro): partial to food porn and Bradley Cooper

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

He’s a bad-boy fuckup. So of course he’s the hero. Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper: American Sniper) destroyed his culinary career in Paris — he’d earned two Michelin stars — a couple of years ago, but now he washes up in London, determined to earn his third star. How did he destroy his career? He’s an addict — addicted to everything: booze, drugs, sex — but that’s not his problem. His problem is that he is a raging asshole. But it’s okay! He may embody the notorious yet vaunted “ideal” of a chef as an “arrogant prick,” but he’s brilliant. A “genius.” Everyone says so. Even his worst enemy (Matthew Rhys: Beau Brummell: This Charming Man). And absolutely everyone else in the world is in love with him. Literally. His old friend, now maître d’ at at new London establishment, poor lovestruck sap Tony (Daniel Brühl: Woman in Gold). Adam isn’t gay, but restaurant critic Simone (Uma Thurman: Movie 43) is, and just about the entirety of her very limited dialogue here is her lamenting — though with a wistful, girlish sigh — how she “regrets” (not really) sleeping with him. (There is absolutely no purpose to this tangent at all beyond demonstrating how supposedly irresistible Adam supposedly is. We still never understand it.) And even, eventually, his new saucier, Helene (Sienna Miller: Mississippi Grind).

Poor Helene gets the most appalling treatment at the hands of screenwriter Stephen Knight (Seventh Son) and director John Wells: whatever culinary ambitions she might have are never even broached. She exists solely to make Adam’s dreams come true, and she’s even totally fine with how he abusively manipulates her into accepting a job in his kitchen. She is a single mother juggling her small daughter and her career, but it’s Adam’s life that is so very challenging. (Someone actually excuses his behavior with “he had a difficult childhood.” Adam, if we’re to assume that he’s the same age as Cooper, is 41 years old, long past the time when his childhood can legitimately accept any blame for his conduct.) It’s only after Adam’s obnoxiousness and arrogance has been celebrated as understandable and even necessary in this line of work and not really that big a deal at all that we are invited to recognize as a triumph that this temperamental manchild — who had made the lives of all around him a living hell — finally learns to impersonate a decent human being by the end of the film. How wonderful for him!

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Burnt for its representation of girls and women.

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Wed, Nov 04, 2015 6:13pm

i had a feeling this would be the theme of this movie.

Thu, Nov 05, 2015 4:23pm

Somehow I don’t see Manic Pixie Dream Saucier taking off as a concept.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RogerBW
Thu, Nov 05, 2015 10:34pm

Oh, she’s not quite *that* bad…

Sun, Nov 08, 2015 12:34pm

*sigh* As someone actually in this industry, I’m always a little leery of projects like this, trying to show the “volatile rockstar genius chef” as anything other than a complete asshole. Just from the trailer I had gotten a bad vibe from it and judging by your review it looks like my first impression was completely accurate. Having worked for many of them, I can assure you that they frequently are incredibly good at their jobs, incredibly bad at being actual people, and never really change.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  RoupenAgnerian
Sun, Nov 08, 2015 4:01pm

I have no doubt there are many good and entertaining stories to be told about people who are good at their jobs while also bad at being people. This isn’t one of them, of course… and some of the problem is the Hollywood loves a redemption story even when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t satisfying or plausible.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Nov 09, 2015 5:24am

Yah, I’d be up for a story about an asshole who redeems himself if he earned his redemption. As it is, even the trailer for this looked unpleasant.