Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nina's Heavenly Delights

After the angst-ridden lesbian coming of age drama ‘Lost and Delirious’, reviewed yesterday, here’s a lesbian drama that’s virtually angst free. In fact it’s closer in tone to a rom-com than a drama. And there are no coming of age heartaches either. There is, however, a cookery competition.

Following her father’s death, Scottish-Asian Nina (Shelley Conn) returns to her native Glasgow after fleeing from an arranged marriage three years previously. She discovers her mother pining for an old flame, her siblings guarding secrets they’re convinced said matriarch will disapprove of, and the family-owned restaurant under threat from rival chef Raj (Art Malik). Resistant to her family’s initial antagonism and determined to keep her father’s spirit alive, Nina teams up with her brother’s is-she-isn’t-she girlfriend Lisa (Laura Fraser) to reopen the business and enter a culinary competition that could save them from Raj’s take-over. Although romance is the last thing on Nina’s mind, the chemistry between her and Lisa is too strong to ignore.

I made the mistake of watching ‘Nina’s Heavenly Delights’ two days before payday, with just £1.13 in the bank and not a chance in hell of getting a takeaway let alone trolling up to a restaurant, casing out the menu and ordering the works. I sat through 91 minutes of pure feelgood fuzziness, DoP Simon Dennis framing the food as gorgeously as he frames the smouldering looks between the never-beaten-with-the-ugly-stick leads, with my stomach rumbling and my saliva glands working overtime.

As a food film, I’d put ‘Nina’s Heavenly Delights’ up there with ‘Ratatouille’ and ‘Big Night’, both of which necessitated me going directly from the cinema to a restaurant. (Unlike ‘La Grande Bouffe’ and ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’, both of which rendered me a poster boy for Weight Watchers for several days afterwards.)

As a romantic drama, it’s not as overpoweringly passionate as ‘Desert Hearts’ or as quirkily entertaining as ‘Better than Chocolate’. Its more humorous elements lack the self-aware smarts of ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’. And yet, for all its hokeyness, Pratibha Parmar’s film is as lovingly created as its heroine’s cuisine.

On paper, it comes across a lesbian romance with a foodie subplot; in actuality, the cookery competition is the narrative be-all-and-end-all, with Nina and Lisa’s falling in love simmering away (pardon the pun) in the background. This actually turns out to be the film’s strong point. With Nina and Lisa ostensibly straight at the outset and facing up not only to their feelings but their sexuality, the potential for angst and/or navel-gazing could have been significant. Parmar, however, focuses on the competition/underdog aspect (‘Nina’s Heavenly Delights’ probably has more in common with ‘Rocky’ than ‘Desert Hearts’) and lets things develop organically between Nina and Lisa.

Conn and Fraser are eminently likeable and convincing in the lead roles. The supporting cast nail it, with a “man of the match” award going to Ronny Jhutti as Nina’s camp best mate Bobbi, leader of a transvestite dance troupe. The finale is as predictable as a join-the-dots puzzle, but no less enjoyable for all that. To further the obvious analogy, ‘Nina’s Heavenly Delights’ is a modest little film – more an entrée than a banquet – but it’s a delicious treat.

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