The Netflix description for this movie is: “A coffee-loving small-town barista and a tea-loving writer from New York. Together, they could make the perfect blend.” So that should give you an idea of how good it is.
A playwright named Ben Carson (no, seriously) moves to a small town on the recommendation of his friend. Once there, he falls in love with the local coffee shop owner. “Hijinks” ensue…
I’d summarize the plot of the movie for you, but there’s literally no reason for me to do so when this trailer exists:
(Just netted you 96 minutes)
A few notes I do have include:
- Why does Donovan need two other employees to run a coffee shop that has maybe four customers?
- Why would a tony-winning playwright so famous that he gets recognized on the street, need to write another “hit play” for money?
- If the townspeople love the coffee shop so much, why don’t they help her save it?
- How did Donovan get a bank loan to buy the coffee shop when she was 19?
Then again, nitpicking this movie is like kicking a lost puppy who’s at risk of losing his coffee shop, so I’ll try not to be too harsh.
You know what the problem with most romantic comedies is? Their characters aren’t quirky enough! Thank god this movie came along and fixed that.
Donovan is a strong, fearless coffee shop owner who sings, plays piano, raises money for poor african children, all while running her own small business. Is there anything this girl can’t do? Yes, actually. She can’t find a man. But that’s ok, because she’s strong, and independent! Wait, it’s the main conflict of the movie? Well shi-
Eli and Sarah are hip millennials who wear crazy clothing accessories and have relatable banter!
Becky resells vintage items on Ebay and goes on moped rides along the boardwalk. How lovably zany!
Kevin is a CPA who takes his coffee with three (count it) THREE shots of caramel flavoring. Slow down there big guy!
Ben Carson is a playwright who tries to order tea at a coffee shop. Tea? At a coffee shop? Ben you silly goose, you think they serve tea there? Just because it’s on the menu?
Get out of here with your stupid beverage preferences!
Even the goddamn side-characters in this movie are quirky. Alex (the guy who Donovan goes on a date with in the movie’s unnecessary opening scene) is a masculine white bro-guy who loves football and karaoke? Max is an old black man in a wheelchair who hangs around the shop all day playing chess. That’s kind of sad, actually…
The acting in this movie is ok for the most part, with the exception of Jon Lovitz, who was almost certainly drunk for all of his shoots. But hey, at least he probably doesn’t remember making this shit.
The dialogue in this movie is pretty much all generic rom-com stuff. However, there are a few notable lines which are downright awful.
There’s what’s supposed to be a witty banter scene near the beginning of Donovan and Ben talking to each other. When Ben says something about writing, Donovan replies with, “I’m sure Aristotle would be relieved to have his quotes back.” What?
After Donovan learns that Patrick wants to sell the coffee shop to Frank to build a parking garage on the property, Eli and Sarah watch her run out (jesus christ why do I remember this). Bent Carton finds her sitting on a park bench, and tries to comfort her by stating dumb platitudes like “you’ll make it through this.” Then, in what is supposed to be an emotional scene, Donovan actually says, “You ever wonder why it seems like they’re always building another parking garage?” Huh.
When Becky is telling her to imagine life running the coffee shop with Patrick (her former husband), she tells her that they could spend their lives making “choca-mocha-whatever’s.” This coming from a character that spends at least an hour in a coffee shop every day. Can’t remember any real drink names? No, I get it. That’s why when I hit up my local brew-spew, I just make motions with my hands describing what kind of coffee I want. Works about half the time.
The movie also makes incredibly poor use of voice-over narration. In the 15-minute long opening scene, Donovan pretty much gives us her character’s entire backstory. Now I don’t hate voice-overs necessarily, and I think in some instances (like in The Hateful Eight and The Handmaid’s Tale) they can be used effectively. However, this movie takes narration as a cop-out instead of actually, y’know, writing good dialogue. Rather than develop anything through character interactions, they just tell us everything outright. Nothing that Donovan says is particularly complicated or requires such explicit exposition. I guess their way was faster, but it’s not like this movie needed to cut runtime. Meh.
The cinematography in this movie is pretty standard for romantic comedies. Every shot is unnaturally brightly lit, the camera focus is always on a character(s), and it’s either a close-up of someone’s face or a full shot of whoever’s talking. One thing I will give it credit for is the various backdrops and shooting locations. Some parts of the movie take place on a pier, and the ocean in the background looks pretty nice.
The really interesting choice here is the set design, specifically Donovan’s coffee shop. Remember how I mentioned the characters were really quirky? Well that translates to the sets (a little too well). The coffee shop in the movie combines every possible odd feature that a small coffee shop could have, and it looks really, really stupid. Nothing in the cafe makes any sense? There are like 30 lamps thrown around everywhere (pretty much one per table). The walls are covered in the most random collection of images, featuring paintings, maps, and a photograph of an African child:
The walls themselves are brick, but the top half is covered with this weird uneven stucco material for some reason. There’s also like a piano there? And a chair hanging from the wall? And hey, they even got those pottery mugs that you see at every single “indie” coffee place. If “hipster coffee shop” had concept art, this would be it.
Tropes, Tropes everywhere (nor any choca-mocha-whatevers to drink)
Given that this a generic romantic comedy, an abundance of tropes is to be expected. What was interesting was that rather than rely on one specific trope to carry the movie, it used multiple different ones throughout. As soon as one cliched conflict was resolved, another popped back up like a game of whack-a-holyshitthismovieisunoriginal.
I was going to describe all of the stupid conventions that the film felt the need to include, but I found TvTropes pages for all of ‘em so Imma just post links.
The main conflict in the first 20 minutes of this movie’s actual plot revolves around this stupid case of mistaken identity between Donovan and Band Carpets. Basically, after Jon Lovitz tells Donovan that he’s gonna foreclose on her ass, he goes outside and sees B-Car, which he somehow recognizes because he’s just that famous? (No one else in the town recognizes him so maybe Jon’s just really into the plays). When Donovan sees them talking to each other, she assumes that Ben and “Frank” are partners, and is a total bitch to him for the next few scenes. This is done in the most stereotypical “movie way” possible, with both of them using vague sentences so they don’t ever resolve the misunderstanding. Eventually, Kevin (being pretty much the only competent person in this movie) clears everything up between them, and they have a good laugh at their own stupidity (just kidding, that’d require self-awareness).
Donovan’s ex, Patrick, comes back to town and asks to meet up. He seems to be into her, and wants to get back together. Obviously, this creates tension because now she has to choose between him and Bone Cartilage. Luckily, this is completely defused when Patrick suggests that she sell the coffee shop to build a parking garage, at which point she runs away and he disappears from the movie entirely.
Donovan finds an excerpt from the play that Ban Carcinogens is writing which includes a few unflattering facts details about her life. She gets mad and accuses him of exploiting her character for laughs, or something. Ben tells her that she doesn’t understand the play, and here’s where it gets murky.
Rather than just storm out, which would be the classical romantic comedy reaction, Donovan sort of gives him a chance to explain himself. The thing is, rather than just telling her that she had only been reading a section of the play, and didn’t get the full context, he makes incredibly vague statements, prompting her to get mad and leave. Later, when he confronts her at the coffee shop, he basically just tells her the situation (which he easily could’ve done before), and they make up.
There are other tropes in this movie, but none of them really affect the plot too much, and like I said before I don’t want to give this movie too much trouble. It knows what it did.
The most common mistake movies make with their score is having ill-fitting music over scenes. Coffee Shop takes this to another level by having music that not only doesn’t fit, but is so loud and obnoxious that it ruins every scene it’s in. The movie gets progressively better with this, and by the end, the background music mainly just consists of soft piano. However, a few specific scenes at the start are just… ugh.
For example, the scene following the tile card features this loud indie pop/rock that’s really distracting and makes it hard to watch. I mean, it’s just a scene of her walking into the coffee shop. This isn’t a god damn music video.
The first cafe scene we get of various townspeople coming in to have relatable banter and get coffee, features this jaunty rom-com tune that makes this movie scream “low-budget comedy.”
The other thing I noticed with sound is the utter lack of ambient noise in any part of the movie. Even in points where the characters are in crowded locations, which should, theoretically, have a lot of background noise, you don’t hear anything. This movie is framed as if the characters talking are the only ones producing sound, which is really weird. Maybe it’s to make the movie resemble a play? Probably not.
I find it interesting that they chose to make Donovan the lead in this movie, and not Ben, because I feel like she would’ve made a really good manic pixie dream girl. The voice-overs also would’ve made a lot more sense coming from a character that was writing a play about the events of the film. Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a bad movie, but it does so little to set it apart from any other Romantic Comedy. None of the performances are memorable, and the “spin” with the coffee shop is cute, but not particularly exciting. It’s not an awful experience, and it works fine as a lighthearted “feel-good” movie, but that genre is already so saturated that I don’t really think this film has much of a place.
Good for: Uh… people learning English, I guess?
Bad for: Tea lovers, coffee lovers, Jon Lovitz(’s liver)
Bod R8s: 3.3/8