A review of  Tortilla Soup” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

 

Inspired by and based loosely on Ang Lee’s mouth-watering  “Eat Drink Man Woman”, this is an equally delicious testament to love, living, and art of eating well.

Be home for Sunday dinner – the one rule of the house that widowed father Martin Naranjo (Hector Elizondo) will not negotiate when it comes to his three grown daughters.  Martin is a professional chef whose passion for culinary pleasures isn’t dampened in the least by his dwindling senses of taste and smell.  Each Sunday he prepares a Mexican feast of epic gastronomic proportion, sits at the head of the table with a glass of robust red, and watches the sparks fly.  Eldest daughter Leticia (Elizabeth Pena) is a prim schoolteacher living a life of quiet devotion to her Lord and Savior.  She disapproves of her sisters’ modern ways, not to mention their scanty thongs and casual sex lives.  Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors) is the well-adjusted middle child who is following the path guaranteed to please dad  - MBA, responsible job, and an affection for her native Hispanic cuisine.  Teenager Maribel (Tamara Mello) is the typical baby of the family – charming, willful, and feeling perpetually ignored.

In short order, Carmen is offered a tremendous career opportunity in far away Barcelona, Leticia unexpectedly catches the eye of the school baseball coach, and Maribel announces that she’s forsaking college to take off and see the world.  In the midst of this domestic brouhaha arrives family friend and young grandmother Hortensia (Raquel Welch), a hot tamale who has more on her mind than Spicy Chicken Mole. 

As with Lee’s gorgeous sensory onslaught, this is truly a feast for the eyes.  Dazzling displays of slicing, mincing, sautéing, and simmering fill the screen with color and perceived flavor.  (The exquisite ethnic displays are the brainchild of renowned L.A. based Mexican/Latin chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, collectively known as Too Hot Tamales).  Elizondo, himself an accomplished cook, finally snares a leading role and is well up to the task of kitchen magician and loving but addled father figure. The food creates an atmosphere that isn’t easy to compete with, but the Mexican/American culture clash makes for a pleasingly piquant conflict.  Overall, a clichéd drama flavored with enough heart to make it a palatable fusion.