Posted by Nathaniel Thompson on November 23, 2016
Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to give a shout out to a film I’m particularly grateful for: Eating Raoul (1982). Sure, it might not be the most obvious choice for holiday viewing, but it’s all about the importance of family, the rewards of the entrepreneurial spirit and the message that in America, anybody can succeed with enough determination and can-do attitude. What could be more patriotic than that?
It’s odd that no one’s floated around the idea of remaking this film since the idea could easily work in the age of Craigslist and Tinder, but then again, there’s no way you could possibly replicate the magic of what director Paul Bartel and frequent co-star Mary Woronov put together here. The film was very low budget and scraped together with whatever money could be found here and there, a neat parallel to the Blands’ dream of opening their own country kitchen restaurant. Bartel (who sadly passed away in 2000) is probably most familiar as an actor with supporting bits in everything from The Usual Suspects (1995) to Piranha (1978), but he really shone in his appearances with former Warhol Factory fixture Woronov. Sort of the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of the drive-in scene, they sparkled in such films as Hollywood Boulevard (1976), Get Crazy (1983), Chopping Mall (1986) (in which they reprised their roles as the Blands), and the immortal Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979).
However, Bartel was also an accomplished (and very funny) director in his own right, starting off with the hilariously warped short films The Secret Cinema (1968, later remade as an episode of Amazing Stories) and Naughty Nurse (1969) and continuing with the perverse horror comedy Private Parts (1972) and two Roger Corman favorites, Death Race 2000 (1975) and Cannonball (1976). The six-year gap between that last film and Eating Raoul was the longest in his directing career as he put this passion project together, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect when it finally unveiled in front of appreciative critics and indie audiences with a swift release on home video and cable TV adding to its enthusiastic word of mouth. I remember all of those dueling critics shows (Siskel and Ebert and all of their imitators) going gaga over this film on TV when it opened during one of the best years for American genre films, rubbing shoulders with other scrappy successes like Basket Case and Liquid Sky. There was something really special in the air in movie theaters that year, and this film captures it perfectly.
You’d think that a film about swingers and want ads would be terribly dated by now, but somehow this plucky little underdog just keeps getting better with age. I can’t think of too many comedies that use sound in such a creative way; that hilarious “klong” of the frying pan obviously takes the cake, but the whole soundtrack is a daffy delight from start to finish. On top of that you can have fun spotting unexpected faces all over the place including Buck Henry, Edie McClurg, Ed Begley Jr. and even Bland/Woronov pal Richard Blackburn, who directed the exquisite Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973), pops up here as James, “from the Valley.”
It’s the kind of darkly funny comfort film you can throw on either alone late at night or with a bunch of friends at any time, and I can’t think of anything better to throw on after the relatives have all left and your belly’s filled with turkey, ham, and/or mashed potatoes. If you really want to get creative, try pairing it up for a bizarro art house food fest with Babette’s Feast (1987) or Chocolat (2000), and you’ll really have a tasty time.
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