December 4, 2011
I have to begin by saying that I was predisposed to like Tortilla Soup because I am predisposed to like Hector Elizondo, who is the focal point of this film. Tortilla Soup, a 2001 remake of the 1994 Taiwanese movie Eat Drink Man Woman, concerns Martin Naranjo (Elizondo), a semi-retired Mexican-American gourmet chef who is the widowed father of three beautiful young women. His daughters still live at home and — at the beginning of the story, at least — gingerly try to accommodate his fixed ideas what their lives, and family life, should be.
The oldest daughter, Leticia (Elizabeth Peña) is loveless and unhappily employed as a high school chemistry teacher. She has broken with her father only to the extent that she has left the Roman Catholic Church in favor of evangelical Christianity. The second daughter, Carmen (Jacqueline Obradors), would have liked to follow in her father’s culinary footsteps, but she caved into his pressure to become a businesswoman. The youngest girl, Maribel (Tamara Mello), disdains the degree of her sisters’ conformity and is potentially the most rebellious.
In a parallel story story line, Yolanda (Constance Marie), a divorced friend of the family, introduces her mother, Hortensia (Raquel Welch), into the Naranjo household. The flamboyant Hortensia quickly decides that she will marry Martin and mistakenly believes that he shares her ambition.
As Martin strives to keep his family together with a constant stream of elaborate meals, each of his daughters starts to drift away – Letitia into the arms of an athletic coach at the high school, Carmen to a lucrative job in Barcelona, and Maribel to the side of a young man who is more of an alternative to her father than he is a lover.
Although the situation is hackneyed and the denouement is predictable, this is a charming movie. That’s attributable to the attractive and talented cast, the intimate nature of both the story and the manner in which it is told, and the lively and evocative musical background.
Elizondo, whose stodginess is altogether benign, is irresistible, and the actresses who portray his daughters establish a credible combination of affection and tension among themselves and between them and their father.
I don’t recommend watching this film on an empty stomach, because the enormous amount of food that cascades across the screen as one meal follows another is mouth-watering.