When cooking, there’s one ingredient always necessary to make the perfect plate. Without this one ingredient, the entire meal is guaranteed to fall apart.

“Today’s Special”

At the Michigan
Reliance MediaWorks

This ingredient is balance. Each individual component of a recipe can be perfectly delectable in its own right, but it’s how these ingredients are proportioned that makes a dish so exquisite.

The same logic can also be applied to films. Story, setting, characters, direction, themes and motifs — all of these different components must be properly balanced to have a memorable film. Without this equilibrium, the result can be a movie that comes across far too strong.

Such is the case for “Today’s Special,” starring Aasif Mandvi (TV’s “The Daily Show”), Dean Winters (TV’s “30 Rock”) and Jess Weixler (“Teeth”).

The movie follows Samir (Mandvi), a dispassionate middle-aged man whose cooking career seems to be going nowhere. After quitting his job as a sous-chef upon being told that he will never have the “magic” required to be a chef, Samir is ready to go to Paris and study under the best chefs in France. Unfortunately for Samir, his father has a heart attack the week before his departure, forcing Samir to stay home and take care of the family restaurant — and go back on his oath to never cook Indian food. Throw in a dead brother, a Yoda-like taxi driver, quirky staff members and an unexpected romance, and there you have it: “Today’s Special.”

While each of these ingredients has potential, they’re unfortunately squandered due to poor delivery. Lines that could be hilarious fall flat because of inadequate timing and direction. The characters that actually make the movie worthwhile, like Samir’s mother, are not given enough airtime. Scenes that call for straightforward camerawork are weakened by focusing experimentation that comes across as out-of-place.

Correct ingredients, incorrect balance.

Still, the themes of failure, family, forgotten heritage and the unexpectedness of life are heartwarming. The development of Samir’s romance with Carrie (Weixler) and the scene in which Samir finally confronts his fears are moving. They would just be more moving if there were a bit less of camp and a dash more of subtlety. A theme — like a flavor — should never be overly stated.

This kind of misstep is all too common in Hollywood. Movies that have all the makings of a smart and poignant film flop because the pieces are not prepared correctly. For a film to be successful, each component must be in complete harmony. Without this balance, the movie loses that “magic” quality that allows it to stand above the rest.

Instead of capitalizing on the witty dialogue, universal themes and unique characters, the film wastes them in a mundane and formulaic capacity, ultimately producing a run-of-the-mill feel-good comedy that has been made a hundred times over.

Near the beginning of the movie, Samir is told that he is too “textbook” to ever be a brilliant chef. This may as well have been a metaphor for the whole film.

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