Political romantic comedy with a tragic spin by the master of the genre.
As I was in Wanaka last weekend for some skiing, my significant other and me were sitting in front of our flat's TV, swearing and cursing about the lack of satellite TV and proper TV-reception, reducing our choice of channels to New Zealand's horrible channel one. None of us had ever heard about that night's feature film: "The girl in the cafe" was completely unknown to us, but we decided to watch after seeing Bill Nighy wander around London during the credits and when we saw that the movie was written by Richard Curtis we were convinced.
Richard Curtis is not really known for his political work: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually were fluffy, lightweight, tasteful and well scripted comedies. He singlehandedly reinvented the genre after the screwball comedies of the forties and made gazillions of pounds in the process. Of course he received plenty of flak for his movies, but most people forget about the fact that the chap has a social conscience: he is co-founder of Comic Relief and a member of Make Poverty History. About writing the film, he said:
"My first effort to bring the two halves of my life together. When I start talking about the G8, people either doze off, or think I'm talking about a vegetable drink.
I wanted to write a film that would give people a chance to understand what it is, and how this year the G8 could change the face of extreme poverty forever."
The fims feels exactly that: an attempt of bringing these sides together, albeit a bit forced. What's it about? Meek civil servant Bill Nighy is working for the Chancellor of the Exchequer and currently preparing the 2005 G8 meeting in Reykjavik (which of course was held "in the real world" in Gleneagles). One day there's only one seat in his favourite cafe left, and he has to share a table with plain, earnest beauty Gina Kelly McDonald, a bored student from Scotland with a past. The socially inept Lawrence and the scottish girl start a shy romance, culminating in Lawrence asking her to come with him to Reykjavik to the G8 meeting, as partners of the senior civil servants are allowed to tag along.
After Lawrence tells her about the importance of the millenium goals and his belief that there's enough momentum for the G8 to significantly reduce poverty in Africa, Gina starts to confront the Chancellor and the PM during the official social gatherings, reminding them in no uncertain terms of their duty to halt child-poverty and the unnecessary death of millions of Africans. This of course lands Lawrence in trouble with the chancellor.
"The girl in the café" is beautifully shot (making magnificent use of Iceland's stark beauty) and often resembles Lost in Translation with its minimalistic interiors, long silences and the akward relationship between the two main characters, an older man and a young woman. The political message is powerful, and the acting is magnificent. Shot for TV for the BBC's Africa season and directed by David Yates (who will direct the next Harry Potter), this is up there with Curtis's best work, Blackadder IV. Just ignore the resemblance to Lost in Translation.