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and Kate Novack
With an entire network devoted solely to the making and selling of foodstuffs, and the celebrity chef now commonplace, you can’t blame filmmakers Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack for trying to demystify the restaurant biz. Problem is, their new documentary, Eat This New York, comes across less as a necessary corrective to the glitzification of an entire industry and more as a dour, stylized reality show, turning what ought to have been a compelling drama—the narrative of a start-up restaurant, with all its attendant turmoils—into something dry and lifeless. The film introduces us to Billy Phelps and John McCormick, two friends from St. Paul, Minn., now relocated to New York and purportedly in possession of a dream: to open a gentrified corner bistro called Moto in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, with its convenient ethnic backdrop of Orthodox Jews, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. Rossi and Novack clearly mean for Phelps and McCormick to stand in for all those poor, suffering hopefuls who bid to become New York City restaurateurs (by the film’s estimate, 1,000 or so in the last year alone), but the men are so low-affect and entitled that it’s hard to root for them, and neither betrays much of a passion for either running the business or cooking. Aside from the occasional cinematographic trick (most of them blurry), Eat This is content, like so many of its post–Real World cousins, to meander to its unsatisfying, foregone conclusion: Moto opens, finally, after a year and a half. The story, interspersed with footage of talking heads—Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and chef Daniel Boulud, among
others—does attempt to situate the pilgrims’ progress within the larger context of dining culture, and on that count, at least, Rossi and Novack succeed. In fact, the passion and energy of these restaurant lifers is such a contrast to the lackluster efforts of Phelps and McCormick that you’re able to forget about the film’s heroes completely. —Todd Kliman