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Painfully slow to get going, The Spitfire Grill waits until you're reaching under the seat for your coat before finally sputtering into life. Writer-director Lee David Zlotoff is clearly aiming to create one of those touching, accessibly feminist tales that gently unfold rather than motor forward with masculine impatience: this is the whimsical story of a girl's search for a new life, of the community that eventually accepts her, of sizzling bacon, eggs over-easy and black coffee. There's a mad, hairy bloke who hangs around in the woods, but don't get excited - even he turns out to be an okay fella.
If you're thinking this sounds just like all those other films about strong women pulling together to run a small café, you're exactly right. You get to drop in on most of the inhabitants of the town, and hear plenty of gossip about Percy. You get an abortive romance. You get an uplifting ending.
To its credit, The Spitfire Grill offers a pleasingly tinkly soundtrack, plenty of lingering shots of the beautiful Maine countryside, and - most of all - some excellent performances. Alison Elliott does a cracking central turn as the steady, strong-willed Percy, while most of the supporting actors are good too (the local sheriff, played by Gailard Sartain, and the local Mr Nasty, Will Patton, in particular). Presumably it was on the strength of these that The Spitfire Grill won an award at last year's Sundance Film festival - it certainly can't have had anything to do with the drab (but still fairly preposterous) plot, which acts like an iron life-vest, all but drowning the film.
All in all, this is a real struggle to get through - a by-the-numbers, feel-good, feel-bad, feel-good-again flick with a huge side order of Goop Sentimentale. Yes, Zlotoff handles the plodding "action" proficiently enough, but he hardly dealt himself a good hand to start with - this lazy mix of wood chopping, breakfast cooking and long walks in the country might work as Sunday afternoon TV, but as big-screen fare it's a non-starter.
Slug-paced, event-free but well-played women-run-restaurant chick flick, almost completely devoid of interesting or even distinguishing features.
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