The Girl in the Cafe (2005) / Drama-Romance

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for language, some sexuality, and brief nudity
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Bill Nighy, Kelly Macdonald, Ken Stott, Anton Lesser, Corin Redgrave, Maneka Das,
Director: David Yates
Screenplay: Richard Curtis
Review published June 26, 2005

The Girl in the Cafe is an odd idea for a romance, mixing a May-December relationship with world politics, ultimately becoming a cry to put an end to extreme global poverty.  Certainly such an undertaking is ambitious, if a bit schizophrenic, but credit screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Bridget Jones's Diary) for getting the balance between the two competing interests right more often than not.  it's a manipulative story to be sure, and not free from propagandizing its points, but it does ultimately deliver a message that a person should try to make a difference if possible, and that if we (meaning those of affluence) really wanted to put an end to a despicable world problem like poverty or hunger, we could. 

The star of the piece is Bill Nighy (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Enduring Love), playing Lawrence, who deals with mostly financial advice in his position working directly for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Lawrence has dedicated his life to his career and working for the common good, so much so that he has found little time to get away, and even less time for a relationship with a woman.  This all changes when he shares a table in a crowded cafe with Gina (Macdonald, Entropy), a young woman of beauty but little direction, and the two enjoy a nice chat, the only breath of fresh air Lawrence has been afforded since he has begun the laborious preparations for the upcoming G8 summit.  The two decide to meet again, striking up a little courtship, and when Lawrence needs to travel to Iceland for the summit, he takes Gina along, willing to put up with all the gossip to spend more time with her.  Gina becomes fascinated with what Lawrence does, and soon, she begins offering up advice to the powers that be that she runs into at social occasions, although her comments are far from well received.  Lawrence must decide whether or not his feelings for Gina are worth jeopardizing all he has spent his life building up, or if perhaps he has spent so much time helping others, he has forgotten to tend to his own happiness in the process.

If anything, Curtis points out in clear fashion the importance of the G8 summit, and toward the end of his film, he is almost making it an issue to try to create more "girls in the cafe" to voice their opinions and apply pressure to those about to meet in the next one.  It should come as no surprise that Curtis is one of the prominent members of Make Poverty History, and has dedicated this film to part of the effort, nor should the fact that two of Scotland's more popular actors, Macdonald and Stott, are cast in it.  The next G8 summit is to be held in Scotland on July 2, 2005, one week after this makes its television debut.  The romantic developments between Lawrence and Gina sucks us into their story, after which we are slowly opened up to receive the information that Curtis would like to deliver in a political sense.  It works in its own way, but ultimately, Curtis takes us to the dance but leaves us stranded without a ride back, as the romantic drama elements are sketchily drawn up and dispatched without much resolution. 

David Yates (slated to be the future director of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) does provide some very good direction, and the look of the film is quite good considering the modest budget.  The real glue that holds it all together are the performances of the very appealing cast, with Bill Nighy looking like a complete fish out of water when it comes to emotional relationships, and Ken Stott (King Arthur, Shallow Grave) is also quite good as the politician that can only keep his composure so long with all that's going on around him.  Yates knows his cast well, as he had directed Nighy and Macdonald in his BBC television series, "State of Play".

The Girl in the Cafe has its share of flaws, and can be very uneven at times, but it is still a worthwhile film for some food for thought and for a nice story of love between two very different people.

Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo