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Movie review: ‘Toast’

Like the lemon meringue pies it so prominently features, director S.J. Clarkson’s highly enjoyable, 1960s-set memory piece, “Toast,” is by turns sweet and tart, airy and rich and, above all, a thoroughly irresistible confection.

Adapted by Lee Hall (writer of “Billy Elliot,” to which it bears comparison) from the memoir by British food writer, journalist and TV host Nigel Slater, the title refers to Slater’s kitchen-challenged mother’s one foolproof recipe; the go-to dish that regularly followed her home-cooked disasters, which were often of the boiled-in-their-own-can variety.

The film follows a 9-year-old Slater (terrifically played by Oscar Kennedy) as he grapples with his gently loving mum’s (Victoria Hamilton) ill health; a grumpy, at times cruel factory manager father (Ken Stott); and a burgeoning interest in food preparation and, more circumspectly, the male species. It carries through to his mother’s asthma-related death, his dad’s subsequent marriage to their wildly capable, eyes-on-the-prize new housekeeper, Mrs. Potter (Helena Bonham Carter), and a reluctant move to the countryside.

“Toast” picks up later as the teenage Slater (Freddie Highmore), now more self-possessed and cooking-savvy, finds himself locked in a culinary war against his (perhaps somewhat unjustly) despised, frosty stepmother for his dad’s attention.

It’s lively, tender and evocative stuff, featuring a stirring, well-placed collection of Dusty Springfield songs. Don’t miss it.

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“Toast.” No MPAA Rating. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.


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