Dir: Maria Ripoll. US. 2001. 103mins.
Here's a conundrum: this remake - or rather "Mexican American retelling" - of Ang Lee's 1994 Oscar-nominated Taiwanese film Eat Drink Man Woman is well crafted and for the most part pleasantly diverting. But why remake a hit specialised movie into another specialised movie' Surely the only reason for remaking a great foreign-language film is to recast it into a big budget studio film that could tell the same story to a mainstream audience as in the case of Three Men And A Baby, City Of Angels or the forthcoming Vanilla Sky. Tortilla Soup obviously wants to tap into the domestic Latin audience, but without any big Latin names in the cast, it stands little chance of escaping the arthouse circuit. Even there, producer and domestic distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films will be lucky to get close to the impressive $7.3m it grossed with the beloved original.
Maria Ripoll, whose most recent movie was the benign and forgettable Twice Upon A Yesterday (aka If Only) starring a pre-US fame Penelope Cruz, succeeds at creating a sense of tightly-knit family between a widower and his three grown-up daughters, but is less successful when her characters venture outside the household. Comparisons with Ang Lee are, of course, inevitable and unfortunate: the gentle humour, subtlety and compassion that make his characters so truthful is largely absent here replaced by broader brush strokes.
Taking time out between Garry Marshall movies, Hector Elizondo plays the patriarch Martin, an expert chef in his 50s who cooks sumptuous dinners for his three daughters - the eldest, a sexually repressed schoolteacher Letitia (Pena), the middle one, a beautiful and successful businesswoman Carmen (Obradors) and the youngest, a flighty, romantic teenager Maribel (Mello).
Brought up by their kind but over-protective father, each has longings of their own, but strain to please him. Carmen in particular wants to leave her business life and work as a chef but is never given encouragement by Martin.
The film covers a turning point in all of their lives when Letitia finds a boyfriend in her school's new sports teacher, Maribel falls for a Brazilian free spirit and Carmen gets offered a job in Barcelona. Martin realises that it's time for his idyllic household to break up and for he himself to find new love.
There's much to please in Tortilla Soup - from the interplay between the family members - Obradors and Pena are the best - and the unusual glimpse of affluent Mexican Americans in Los Angeles to the luscious food on show from celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, although the fast fade from theatres of last year's Latin food movie Woman On Top doesn't bode well for a better performance from this one. Ironically, the film will suffer from another comparison - with Ken Loach's Bread And Roses which took a much less fanciful look at Mexican American families in LA to much more emotional effect.
Prod co Foundation Entertainment, Samuel Goldwyn Films, STARZ Encore Entertainment
US dist Samuel Goldwyn Films/IDP
Exec prod Samuel Goldwyn Jr
Prod John Bard Manulis
Scr Tom Musca, Ramon Menendez, Vera Blasi, inspired by the film Eat Drink Man Woman, written by Ang Lee, James Schamus, Hui Ling Wang
Cinematography Xavier Perez-Grobet
Prod des Alicia Maccarone
Music Julianne Kelley
Main cast Hector Elizondo, Jacqueline Obradors, Tamara Mello, Nikolai Kinski, Joel Joan, Paul Rodriguez, Elizabeth Pena, Raquel Welch