Cinema Review: Waffle Street | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, August 5th, 2020  

Waffle Street

Studio: MarVista
Directed by Eshom and Ian Nelms

Mar 16, 2016 Web Exclusive
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In 2009, right after the economy tanked, hedge fund VP Jimmy Adams was fired from his job. Burnt out and disenchanted, Adams sought out perhaps one of the least likely jobs for a man of his training and experiences. He began waiting tables at Waffle House—the national, 24/7 breakfast chain—and embarked upon a brand new chapter in life. In 2010, he published a book about his experiences slinging hash browns and the lessons he learned from his hard-working, low income, frequently ex-con colleagues. Eshom and Ian Nelms’ adaptation of Adams true story stars James Lafferty as the former VP, Julie Gonzalo as his wife Becky, and Danny Glover as Edward Collins, grill-master par none. 

On its surface, Waffle Street ought to be an empowering bootstraps tale relatable to anyone who has ever felt the sting of unemployment. (Full disclosure, I have not read Adams’ book, so every assumption and opinion I have stems solely from the film.) However, it’s not quite as universal as it might have been, and this is solely because of how Adams is depicted. Before I go any further, though, I want to stress that Waffle Street is an endearing, positive film bursting with heart. It is also, however, about as fluffy as a waffle’s whipped cream topping.

By the first time he sets foot in Papa’s (the film’s fictionalized version of Waffle House), Jimmy Adams has decided he wants a more honest job than his previous profession allowed. But, he’s also running out of options. He has fruitlessly hand delivered upwards of 50 applications, most of which he took to places he is wholly unsuited for (such as an auto-body shop, when he’s not once gotten his hands greasy in an engine before). Papa’s hires him without batting an eye, and Adams readily convinces himself he’s found his true calling. At first, he’s goofily naïve—he wears inappropriate and expensive shoes, studies the employee’s manual like he’s in school, and fumbles his way through daily interactions with the working class. His blunders offer mild, sweet humor, and the Nelms brothers milk it for all they can.

However, there’s something a little darker about Adams throughout. From the outset, he remains slightly mentally “better than” everyone else. Yes, he works hard and befriends them, but Adams’ coworkers are people whose temporary employment became full time jobs, or for whom this is a step toward reintegration after a stint in prison. They quit, only to find themselves back when their bills pile up or their other opportunities disintegrate. In few cases are they truly there voluntarily. The film treats them with appropriate levity, given the tone it sets from the get-go, but it (and Adams) ignore the underlying point. People work hard at Papa’s while trying to pave other paths for themselves. Jimmy Adams, however, walks in and immediately sees a lucrative opportunity.

He’s driven to work hard by the mandate that franchise owners must first work 1,000 hours at a Papa’s before they can buy a restaurant. Jimmy sells his expensive car and downgrades his mansion in order to get enough for the buy-in., because he’s not content to wait tables; he wants to own a Papa’s. He comes from a place of privilege that fundamentally contradicts his desire to walk amongst the hoi polloi. He barely has his apron on, when he decides he ought to be the boss. His coworkers have thousands of hours of experience, but they lack the means to fork over $300,000 to buy a franchise. For Jimmy, it’s a goal feasible in 6-months, tops. The financier is a lingering part of him, perhaps a dominant one, despite his best efforts to quell it. He’s not content with “honest work” unless it yields great returns. He doesn’t actually even ever really stop to ask himself if he wants to be in the restaurant business. Adams simply commits to buying his place of employment.

At the end of the day, Waffle Street is a kind, gentle look at the recession and difficult times. But it’s told through the eyes of someone for whom opportunity is never as far away as it seems. Jimmy Adams doesn’t need Papa’s, but he wants it. He’ll learn his lesson, get his hands dirty, and move on. He might even be better for his experiences, but he will have missed seeing the sunny side egg in front of him for the nest egg a little farther ahead.

www.wafflestreetmovie.com

Author rating: 5.5/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10



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