★★★ / ★★★★
Because Mum (Victoria Hamilton) is asthmatic, youngster Nigel (Oscar Kennedy) is forced to eat from canned goods instead of fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables from the supermarket. For years, he craved to eat delectable food from gourmet magazines. In order to break out of their routinely austere heat-up meals, he attempts to cook. However, there is one of two outcomes: the food ends up burnt or his parents do not want to eat it.
Based on the memoir of Nigel Slater, a beloved food writer and television personality, “Toast” is a stomach-grumbling experience. I actually found myself getting up, obtaining food from the kitchen, and eating with the characters.
The film is thoughtfully made and effortlessly acted despite some easy to overlook hyperboles. Kennedy is perfectly cast because he is able to evoke so much wonder from staring at, for example, a piece of pie to an overwhelming joy once his mouth makes physical contact with a sugary confection.
And yet he proves equally strong during the more dramatic scenes. When Mum’s health begins to decline, Nigel’s confusion and loneliness is at the forefront. He feels that his father (Ken Stott) is not especially fond of him. Nigel confesses to one of his friends (Frasier Huckle), who always seems to have food in his hands, that he is convinced that his father thinks of his own son as strange. There is truth in that suspicion which is explored later on.
Although Nigel’s father makes some effort to genuinely connect with him, maybe even for the first time, their personalities are akin to oil and water. There is a theme about Nigel craving, as he has craved good food, to connect with others. Nigel tries to make friends with their gardener, Josh (Matthew McNulty). He sees Josh as both a big brother figure and a possible childhood crush. Their scenes are handled sensitively without being saccharine.
Eventually, though, Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter) is hired by Nigel’s father as their house cleaner. Although the youngster is not particularly fond of the new woman in their home, there is no denying that she has a talent for cooking. This is the point where the picture begins to defy expectations.
One might assume that Mrs. Potter and Nigel’s passion for food is to be their conduit for a deeper connection. She can teach him how to cook properly and he can allow her the pleasure of becoming a mother. But this is not the case. Nigel’s attachment to his biological mom prevents him from showing Mrs. Potter an ounce of respect. I liked that Mrs. Potter is not portrayed as a complete villain. She has her ugly moments toward Nigel but I believe that at times they are out of frustration because her efforts are often thrown back on her face.
“Toast,” based on the screenplay by Lee Hall and directed by S.J. Clarkson, is aptly titled because of what it symbolizes. Nigel and his parents feasted on toast when they had nothing else to eat. It stood for simplicity and the way things were. Although teenage Nigel (Freddie Highmore) learned how to cook much more complicated dishes, it all started from that toast–how much he hated it as a kid, how it compelled him to learn, and how much he missed it prior to crossing that invisible line toward adulthood.