Everyone’s always ragging on “Burnt.” But what if it was the last great expression of the art form?
Remember the year 2015? NASA confirmed there was water on Mars. “Hotline Bling” was rudely inescapable. Taylor Swift welcomed every woman to the stage. Some depressing stuff happened that I won’t list here because by now you get the point. 2015 was a year, like others, where many things occurred. But there was no more important event in 2015 than the wide theatrical release of Bradley Cooper’s angry chef movie Burnt.
I know what you’re thinking — haha, you’ve got to be kidding me, wow [awkward laughing] no way, man, not the same movie that this very website once called “the worst food movie ever made” — but you would be thinking wrong. I have seen the movie Burnt at least six times, more if I’m counting the number of times I’ve wanted to watch it and have been shut down by people around me. Why would I do this to myself? Let’s call it catharsis.
I’m going to assume you’ve seen Burnt, as it made $36.6 million in the box office worldwide so someone has to have seen it besides me, but in case you haven’t, here’s a brief synopsis: Bradley Cooper plays down-and-out chef Adam Jones in search of a third Michelin star, which he plans to acquire by riding a motorcycle FAST in a leather jacket and aviator sunglasses, shucking one million oysters as penance for all number of mistakes he’s made, and brazenly manipulating a single mother into working under him in a toxic restaurant environment that he himself perpetuates. Plates are thrown, substances are consumed, vulnerable members of the restaurant’s staff are abused. And the world continues to turn.
Is watching Burnt no less than half a dozen times a perverse extreme of hate-watching or is there something wrong with me? I would hazard a guess that it’s both. The toxic bro chef has a long, unavoidable history in popular culture — both fictional and extremely real — and Burnt is a definitive artifact of that archetype. Both Burnt and the archetype it is dedicated to will live on long after we’re all dead.
For some of us, the only way to purify our brains from the wrongdoings of the powerful is through continuous exposure therapy. Burnt toes the line between Haha this movie is bad and Haha oh no it’s reality that is the bad one. Wherever you land on that spectrum, Bradley Cooper and Matthew Rhys will still be staring each other down and calling each other stupid names in an austere, blank dining room, I can promise you that. May as well watch Burnt like a documentary.
Lately, it seems that many films are trying to emulate Burnt director John Wells’s work. In theaters, you can now see Boiling Point and A Taste of Hunger, two dude-chef-driven films starring Stephen Graham and Jaime Lannister, respectively. In both, which I admit to have only seen the trailers for, dishes are delicately plated, critics are feared and hated, and men in chef whites yell unacceptably at the underpaid and overworked staff around them. There is inevitably a scene in both where a piece of dishware is thrown in anger. All eyes are on the auteur male chef as he rages through the pressure of being simply too much of a genius to know how to act. It is emotionally taxing to run a kitchen, yes. I know this already because I’ve seen the movie Burnt.
When it comes to dupes of the film that made you think that maybe motorcycles are cool actually, it’s best to just let the subject matter languish and sputter out. No one needs another toxic bro-chef movie because we already have Burnt starring Bradley Cooper. And just like abusive bosses, one in the genre is more than enough.