“In the weeds” — A term used when someone, usually in the food industry becomes overwhelmed and falls behind.
I have a soft spot in my heart for actress Molly Ringwald; some of her most popular movies were made in the day when I was in the coveted 18 to 24 demographic that movie studios just love. From The Breakfast Club to Sixteen Candles, I watched them all and looked up to Ringwald as the average ‘Joe’ turned teenaged Cinderella, who got the happy ending all of us high school invisibles dreamed of. Now Molly and I are in an older and wiser demographic, no longer sought after by movie or music moguls, but mothers with children of our own, interested in things other than who will take us to the prom. Ringwald isn’t an A-lister in Hollywood any longer but she still manages to find a few acting gigs now and again. In the Weeds is a film that was made back in the year 2000 but it contains elements that are still as relevant today as they were then. Ringwald is at her best in this kind of ensemble piece, surrounded by a quirky cast of misfits in a nicely written story that manages to take the waiter/actor cliché and deliver an intimate portrait of what life might be like for the struggling artist looking for that one big break.
In the Weeds takes place in an upscale New York City restaurant where almost every waiter and waitress is an aspiring actor or writer. On a night when the overbearing owner prepares to dine with a perspective investor, a new employee is being shown the ropes by a cynical waitress whose dreams may be behind her. One waiter is hoping for a phone call that could change his life, another contemplates his future as a playwright, while still dealing with a girlfriend who can’t decide if she wants to be with him or with someone else. This motley crew of wannabes handles an array of peculiar dinner guests and a demanding boss, as they simply try to get through the evening without losing their one sure paycheck.
In the Weeds is definitely a character driven film that takes the strengths of each actor and uses them together to deliver a fairly good motion picture. Act one has us hanging out with Chloe (Molly Ringwald) as she trains new comer Martha, played by a very young looking Ellen Pompeo (Grey’s Anatomy). Ringwald is good in this role as the wise older stateswoman giving Martha the lowdown on how the place works but also on how to handle the rest of her co-workers. She’s a woman who had a dream of becoming a successful actress but that desire has never been fulfilled. Now she is stuck in a job she hates, resigned to her fate but taking out her disappointment with a deadly arrow of sarcasm on anyone who gets in the way. Martha is the one person in the whole place who doesn’t want to be in the movies; she’s getting her Masters in Social Work and is using the job as a place to study the human psyche. Of all the performances, Pompeo’s was the weakest; she is not only the novice waitress but the novice actor too. In a case where life imitates art, the more seasoned Ringwald was showing her less experienced counterpart the ropes of the acting world as well.
Act two involves Marlon (Michael B. Sliver, I Am Sam) and Adam (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project) who are best friends. Marlon just auditioned for a role that could take him from waiter to movie star and he’s on pins and needles waiting to hear from his agent. Adam on the other hand is wondering if success as a playwright is in the cards for him. Marlon is a selfish womanizing cad played well by Silver, who manages to make Marlon a likeable chap even with his creepy lecherous ways. He and Adam are the veterans of the staff, Adam being the heart and soul who carries a certain amount of clout with his co-workers; managing even to get the crew to stand up to their obnoxious boss when he does something particularly slimy. Most of the acting is decent but there are no real powerhouse performances. Jason Leonard who played Adam was the key figure in the film but really didn’t have the presence to carry the movie. Leonard’s performance In the Weeds, was best suited in an ensemble type role; as the saying goes, ‘there’s strength in numbers’ and its only together that this cast seemed to shine.
What sold me on In the Weeds was the combination of these actors in a lighthearted story with a host of likeable characters. You were made to care for these people and their struggles to make a living doing the craft that they loved. You felt for these waiters and waitresses, because any of us can relate to wanting to do something we’re passionate about, whether it’s acting or something less glamorous.
In a blast from the past for me, I was surprised to see that the restaurant’s Maitre D. Jonathan, was played by former Star Search champ Sam Harris. I remember him as this country bumpkin guy always wearing a tuxedo coat with tails, parachute pants and tennis shoes, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in one of the most feminine tones I can remember hearing from a man. As the nervous Jonathan, Harris was one of the most interesting roles in the film. His character was a combination of big mouth second in charge slime ball and a softhearted soul who garnered the strength in the third act to stand up to his boss and protect one of his employees.
In the Weeds is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen format, the audio in Dolby Digital Stereo. The fact that the whole film takes place in one location, the restaurant, gives it the feel of a stage play more than that of a movie. It is an intimate experience that allows the audience to develop a relationship with the characters and care about their future in the entertainment biz. Although Ringwald isn’t the “star” of the movie, she plays a pivotal role. For me, as a Molly fan from way back, she was the reason I watched the movie and she did not disappoint.
Even though I started this review reminiscing about the old Molly Ringwald movies, I did enjoy In the Weeds in a similar way I enjoyed those old ’80s flicks; it is a story about a group of misfits looking to find a place to fit in and I guess deep down I’ve always thought of myself as something of a misfit. Those classic collaborations with John Hughes and Molly Ringwald will never happen again, John Hughes died of a heart attack in 2009 and before that he and Ringwald had a bit of a falling out after she refused to participate in 1987s Some Kind of Wonderful. John Hughes made coming of age movies when I was also coming of age and those films have had a long lasting impact on me even to this day. In the Weeds isn’t a coming of age film per se, but it is about people at a crossroads in their lives looking for meaning out a life that seems to have left them behind; in that way it is similar to those classic’80s movies. In the Weeds won’t be on any of AFI’s greatest movies of all time lists but it is a nice slice of big city Americana and an enjoyable little film that is well worth spending an evening with.
I’ll take a Not Guilty, with a side of Pomme Frites.
In The Weeds (DVD)
2011, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, 90 minutes, R (2000)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English) SUBTITLES: None
EXTRAS: None ACCOMPLICES: IMDB