“Food Club” is a Danish tale of downcast ladies of a certain age who leave staid Denmark for a foodie holiday in sunny Italy for a taste of “la dolce vita.”
Thin on laughs and light on life lessons, it is as edgy and “out there” as its title. Even the setting lacks the “exotic” of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” with Italy too long the place of escape for hidebound northern Europeans looking for a taste of “Enchanted April.”
Marie, Vajna and Berling have been friends since their “seize the day” teens. Now pushing 70, they’re having trouble tearing off the time for their annual get togethers.
Vajna (Kirsten Lehfeldt) is a matronly retired school teacher, still sipping wine by her late husband’s grave years after his death.
Berling (Stina Ekblad) doesn’t “dress her age,” or act it. That puts a strain in her relationship with her daughter, who’d just once like a “traditional Christmas” meal at the house of the woman who refuses to let her kid call her “Mom” or her grandkids call her “Nana.”
But Marie (Karoline Hamm) is the impetus for our story. She’s always “too busy” for their get-togethers, having given over her life to her family, her husband and the accounting firm they run together. When Henrik (Peter Hesse Overgaard) rolls his eyes at the holiday trip their children give them for Christmas, we can see it coming.
“Marie, we need to talk,” (in Danish with English subtitles).
He’s taken up with a younger woman and she is humiliated. Maybe Mrs. “Too Busy” will take that food, wine and sun vacation. Maybe she can talk Vajna and Berling into joining her.
They soon find themselves in a vintage Italian convertible in Puglia, the less expensive, less-filmed (no Clooney lakeside villas here) region on the “boot” of the country. Alessandro (Michele Venitucci) will be their host and guide through the traditional foods, wines and olive oils that will change their cooking and maybe their lives.
Veteran Danish TV director Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg and screenwriter Anne-Marie Olesen surround our trio with “types” — the annoying, over-traveled, gluten-averse younger “foodies” who drop the line “at your age” at every opportunity, and the relatively younger single man (Troels Lyby) that the ladies “compete” for.
Each is due her own epiphany about what’s keeping her from living her “best life.” Those insights are as novel as “moving on” or finally mastering the ability to taste the difference in Italian olive oils.
The laughs are supposed to come from the idea that one likes a little pot, here and there, and never leaves home without her vibrator, and the others get into her salty, f-bomb dropping “DTF” frame of mind as they try to win over a man. No, there’s no need to identify who partakes in what, as the script is that predictable.
The best advice, no doubt ignored as this film was being conceived, is “air for the tone and message of ‘Italian for Beginners,'” Lone Scherfig’s minor classic of this “Danes stop being melancholy” genre of 2000. They didn’t have to remake it, copy it or pay homage to it. They just needed to watch it, see how it works and set their bar higher in tailoring this picture for an older audience.
“Food Club” isn’t offensive, cumbersome or bad, exactly. It just lacks the novelty and spark of life it needs to be “exotic” and romantic. There’s nothing new or even charming, at this point, in rounding up older actors and putting them in a pretty place, showing them a lot of delectable dishes and showing us how much they enjoy them.
MPA Rating: unrated, drug use, smoking, profanity
Cast: Kirsten Olesen, Stina Ekblad, Kirsten Lehfeldt, Troels Lyby, Peter Hesse Overgaard, Michele Venitucci
Credits: Directed by Barbara Topsøe-Rothenborg, script by Anne-Marie Olesen. A Samuel Goldwyn release.
Running time: 1:38