Sometimes, you get to watch a movie that really blows you away. It’s either so good or so bad that the film will be permanently stamped into your brain. Three Stars is not one of those movies. Instead, after viewing it, the details will float away and you’ll forget ever having watched it in the first place.
Between checking in with chefs who the Michelin Guide has favored, interviewing an editor of the Guide, and throwing in shots of chefs putting together what seems to be delicious food, the point of this film is lost. Are we meant to understand the chefs who work hard to make it? Should we come out of this with more knowledge of the Guide itself or what it takes for a restaurant to receive attention? What about the way in which the rating system has changed to reflect the emergence of superb restaurants in Tokyo or more casual spots that are Michelin worthy? The movie only glosses over all of these subjects and, as a result, has little focus.
Maybe I don’t get Michelin stars, but I just find it so hard to grasp the concept of the Guide making or breaking a restaurant. Of course, I do long to dine in many of the restaurants featured, particularly Noma, so I clearly play into the system a little bit. Still, if the editors suddenly said Noma was crap and Japan was out, would that impact these restaurants that have heart which isn’t captured in the pages of a guide book?
In addition to my general inability to understand the power of Michelin, I have some beef with the way in which the organization is run. Women are few and far between, the editors have inflated egos, and the movie describes it all as “the Vatican of elevated gastronomy.” That last line still makes me roll my eyes, and I think this kind of elitism no longer belongs in the world of food. Food should be fun and it should be delicious, but it shouldn’t be some exclusive club that causes chefs to stress out. If a place like Alinea can’t get a Michelin star, then the organization still has some work to do before they’re with these times.
Not only do I have a hard time grasping the fundamentals of the Guide, this movie sucks all the fun out of otherwise magnetic chefs. I’ve seen Rene Redzepi in numerous TV shows and films, but he’s a washed out version of himself here. Instead of seeing his passion for food and his drive to do something different, his lines are stiff and don’t relay the soul of his restaurant. The parts of the movie where these chefs are the most interesting are the sections where they’re plating and demonstrating their craft, not when they’re actually speaking to a cameraman.
Alongside these few bright moments run the dedication to highlighting all of the people that go into gaining a restaurant Michelin stars. Sure, most of the movie is about the chefs, but there are also scenes demonstrating what the waiters go through daily and interviews with passionate sommeliers. One needs good food in order to succeed, but the front of the house is just as important, and that is one thing the guys behind this documentary understand.
In general, for a film that came out in 2012, it feels outdated. The shots lack brightness, there are no dynamic views, and the interviews are one-note until broken up by the occasional exciting kitchen shots. Did the producers have the taste for champagne on a beer budget? It’s clear they want this movie to succeed and want it to be worthy of the Guide that they’re celebrating, but it’s more similar to a hipster dive bar filled with PBR, and I can go look around Brooklyn if I want to visually experience that.
Three Stars is a film worth few stars. It covers too much and does little with the material it does spend some time with. I’ve watched a lot of crummy movies since starting my resolution to watch 365 this year, but this was one of the more disappointing ones. For those who live for the Michelin Guide, it might be worth a look, but for those looking to learn something new or deepen their understanding of the food world can pass this one over.