Good news, though—you can now add Soul Kitchen to your list. Sure, it's from Germany, a country whose cuisine depends heavily upon mustard and whose greatest cultural crossover is the (admittedly delicious) currywurst. But this restaurant dramedy, slight as it is, is a tasty treat. It's the kind of movie that would suck if it were made in Hollywood, where it will likely be remade sometime in the next few years, so do yourself a favor and see the original.
Zinos (Adam Bousdoukos, who co-wrote the script with director Fatih Akin) runs Soul Kitchen, a Hamburg dive where he serves cheap, greasy-spoon grub to his regulars. He loves the Kitchen, but just ask any restaurateur—it's a tough racket. And things are seriously tough for Zinos. His gorgeous girlfriend, Nadine (Pheline Roggan), is about to move to Shanghai for her work. His convict brother, Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), wants a job so he can get out on work release on a daily basis. When he hires Shayn (Birol Unel), a high-end, petulant new chef, his customers walk away. He owes big money in back taxes, and the health department wants to shut him down. To top it all off, his horny old friend from high school, Neumann (Wotan Wilke Mohring), wants to buy his place, and he's slipped a disc and can barely walk.
It's a perfect shit-storm, until Illias falls for a waitress, Lucia (Anna Bederke), and starts spinning some sweet soul music on a set of hot (as in, stolen) turntables, which is enough to lure hip, intelligent, extremely good-looking people who visit the best new restaurants not only because they're new, but also because the food is terrific.
Of course, all of that sounds farcical, and in the film's early moments, it feels as though it could easily be just an overly broad, exceedingly stupid comedy. But Akin, who cut his teeth on dramas, mostly pulls it together. Many of the characters who feel one-dimensional when you meet them actually have depth, and he pulls real sentiment out of what could otherwise be cliché.
Take Zinos' bad back, for instance—in so many movies, like the recent Dinner for Schmucks, a bad back is little more than an excuse to do a Ministry of Silly Walks bit. Not here. Zinos is in real pain, and his injury ends up being considerably more than just a superfluous sight gag— it's integral to the plot and introduces us to characters who will have a large impact later in the film. The movie succeeds when it sticks with its characters, rather than slumming in slapstick, and also by keeping the food porn to a respectable minimum.
It's not perfect, but it's easy to recommend because it's warm and fun and a little touching. It's like telling friends to go to a restaurant you love, the sort of place that's so familiar and friendly that you're willing to forgive the occasional lapse in service. And the movie—and the food in it—is like a good meal. It's got bits to chew on, and there are flavors that you simply didn't expect early in the experience. Your on-screen companions make for great company, and it's got a sweet, lasting ending. Is it life-altering? No, but neither is crme brulée.