City of Gold review

image1-24Jonathan Gold is the only food critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, but such accolades are barely mentioned in City of Gold, the charming new documentary which chooses instead to focus on the passion which drives Gold’s lyrical prose.

The image of the food critic is one of oft-fulfilled stereotypes. One pictures a snobbish, insular faux-connoisseur whose refined tastes drive him or her to expensive establishments, none of which can raise themselves to the intricacies of said critic’s flawless palette. Yet Johnathan Gold seems to embody none of these things. The critic depicted here doesn’t have an ounce of snobbery in him, nor does he seem too interested in the food of high-end eateries. He frequents food trucks, taco stands, and holes-in-the-wall that many would dismiss as “just another ethnic place.” His desire to seek out these dining spots comes from his love for the melting pot culture of Los Angeles, consisting of people from a wealth of cultural backgrounds. While a white glove establishment may have a rockstar chef at the helm, a mom and pop shop will have multiple generations of tradition behind its culinary attractions.

Directed by Laura Gabbert (No Impact Man), City of Gold contains little flair and a pretty soft edge. There’s no conflict, nor is there any cinematic showmanship, but these are not marks against the film by any stretch. In fact, by having no editorial slant, City of Gold is documentary at its purest. Save for excessive use of drone-captured establishing shots, Gabbert’s film hardly feels like a film at all, but rather a well-written article. How appropriate.

As we follow Gold on his culinary adventures, a portrait emerges of a man on a mission to deeper understand his city. Having began his writing career as a music critic, Gold was right in the thick of the L.A. hip-hop scene during its inception (had a facsimile of him appeared in Straight Outta Compton, it wouldn’t have been inaccurate). He also became active in the punk rock scene … in which he played the cello. His column, “Counter Intelligence” focused on the diverse, underground culture of L.A., and from here the progression to food critic was all but natural.

And that’s where City of Gold truly shines. Food has brought people together since the beginning of time, and it endlessly fascinates Gold. Each of us has different culinary tastes, and to share them with others is to share a little bit about ourselves. A food critic’s job is to transform food-as-fuel into food-as-art, and Gold employs his criticisms in an effort to destroy the American tendency toward “condemnation before investigation.” Gold will try anything once, and urges everyone to do the same before casting judgment (a notion which seems increasingly absent from the world of professional criticism). He is aware that his words have great power, and he wields them with respect – a positive Johnathan Gold review can bring a failing restaurant into profit overnight. City of Gold misses an opportunity to delve into Gold’s negative criticisms, and as a result feels incomplete. Regardless, it’s a breezy delight, and the eye toward cultural exploration and open mindedness makes it hard to fault.

City of Gold opens in Philly area theaters today.

Official site.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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