Last Meal

By Austin Simmons | Drama
A man who cooks last meals for death row inmates dreams of becoming a celebrity chef.

Roger McNamara has a dream: he wants to be the next great celebrity chef and is aiming for a spot on a cooking competition show to fast-track his way into the spotlight.

But his aspirations and potential audition are jeopardized by his current job, cooking last meals for prisoners on death row. Torn between his livelihood and his dreams, he decides to take a leap but lands in an unexpected place.

Directed by Austin Simmons and written by Michael Boyle, this nimble dramedy has visual panache, a jazz-like pace and rhythm and great energy, providing an entertaining, compelling entry point into what eventually becomes a portrait of a man examining the distance between his dreams and reality.

Featuring bright, color-filled cinematography and dynamic camerawork, the narrative premise is executed with a breeziness and verve that has the spirit of the early comedy of the Coen brothers. The pacing skitters from one story development to another, covering a lot of ground and skillfully building up a narrative that is unexpectedly complex for a short.

We see Roger at work and home, navigating both his frustrating job (complete with a hilariously gruff prison warden boss), his hopefulness at a show audition and his kitchen, where he works diligently at his craft. His life and decisions are all aimed at becoming a famous, great chef, to the exclusion of almost all else.

Actor Nate Ward deftly captures Roger’s passion and drive, but also the darker sides to these traits, including the judgment he has for his paying gig and myopia that overlooks the people and moments around him. But when the film slows down and deepens as Roger inches closer to his dream, he also experiences an eye-opening disappointment — one that causes him to re-examine his goals, dreams and maybe even his purpose.

“Last Meal” has many potential elements of a more serious, grounded drama, ranging from the nature of Roger’s job to the sincerity of his passion and dream. But it’s a testament to the film’s buoyant, energetic style that these elements are handled with a lightness that never makes light of them.

It finds humor in some of the more circus-like elements around the celebrity and media aspects of his job and his aspirations, but the film’s heart is actually in the scenes where Roger is alone in his kitchen, communing with his craft. The kitchen is where he returns when he must look at his dreams differently — and, like many who must recalibrate their hopes after setbacks and run-ins with reality — get in touch with the initial spark of creativity and inspiration that may have been lost along the way.

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