From Glitz to Grits: A Lawful Waffle
by Jennifer Na
Based on the memoir of James Adams, directors Eshom and Ian Nelms develop a riches-to-rags story of an ex-hedge fund manager who seeks a blue-collar job at a 24-hour Papa’s Chicken and Waffles. The cliché narrative follows an upper-class heterosexual white male who soul searches by working an “honest” job. This paradoxically emphasizes the privilege he has despite his undesirable circumstances such as losing his million-dollar salary. Although Jim’s employment at Papa’s Chicken and Waffles is central to the plot, food is not depicted in great detail unless a character is engaging with it in a meaningful way. Waffle Street (2015) attempts to reverse the class associations with food and business but its inauthentic execution dilutes the impact of the uplifting resolution.
Jim’ shift from being served to serving is commendable and results in tangible solutions for his new community. Jim discovers a way to marry his financial aptitude and help those who contribute to his success at Papa’s Chicken and Waffles by starting an affordable financial planning service. Despite the genuine dedication Jim displays in working a thousand hours, the process of displaying Jim’s self-centered heroism through his supposed suffering irresponsibly uses reductive foils. Nelms attempts to break the stereotype that financiers are haughty and pretentious through close-ups of Jim’s increasingly scuffed and stained crew shoes, his velcro’d feet a contrast to his initial pair of leather oxfords. Stereotypes are reinforced through the regular patrons such as the mentally ill homeless “Crazy Kathy” and the hardened ex-convict Manuel the line cook. Even the demanding sassy black female who notoriously throws grits on Jim after he accuses her of “bitching” affirms stereotypes to highlight Jim’s disconnection to a blue-collar atmosphere. He narrates, “Here, a tardy plate of bacon turned me into a Jackson Pollock,” which emphasizes his elite education (Figure 1). This scene frames Jim as the focal point; the freshly prepared bacon and grits are almost indiscernible. Jim’s “Waffle Fact” interjections in narration elucidate arbitrary information to demonstrate his intelligence and ability to study information, a skill he applies in attempt to become a franchisee (Figure 2).
As the plot progresses and Jim endures the obstacles of what his family perceives as a low-level job. Despite the chaotic conditions the food still appears intricately assembled, representing Jim’s idealistic idyllic experience. The artificial appearance of food reveals Jim’s unrealistic attempt to substitute waffles as a bridge between class divisions. In some shots the posters look even better than the products being served. Although this location of Papa’s Chicken and Waffles is described as being in an undesirable part of town, the spotless environment and bright lighting creates a welcoming yet sterile atmosphere. The same effect is utilized on the food, making it look plastic and minimally edible, though perfectly assembled and garnished. The food is virtually indistinguishable since the focus is always on the characters and their actions, with a few exceptions when Jim or Edward, the grill cook, interacts with the food by cooking or eating. Most of the food that appears in the film, both at the diner and elsewhere, is within the beige spectrum. Items that deviate from the warm hues of yellow and brown tend to look muted. Even the food at white-table clothed restaurant where Jim announces his unemployment looks barely edible.
Nelms’ well-intentioned film tries to encapsulate James Adam’s inspiring story of his fall from grace as a former Wall Street executive to redemptive journey through learning his way through the Papa’s Chicken and Waffles chain. Unfortunately the lackluster food and lackadaisical production diminishes the effect of Jim’s character development and encouraging enterprise he establishes through his meaningful interactions with unlikely characters that foster his success as a server.
Nelms, Eshom, and Ian Nelms, directors. Waffle Street. 6 Foot Films, 2015.