Two pairs of boots crush the leaves beneath them, making their way through the forest. Two sufficiently-dressed foragers look behind trees, over hills, combing the landscape for a major score. Underneath a tree, it is found: dozens and dozens of massive mushrooms, all of a specific, hard-to-find variety. In these, some would see deliciousness, and some would see money. Lucien and Regina, the two leads of “Now, Forager,” see the continuing of their way of life.
While the pair appear to be masters of their domain inside the kitchen, the twenty-something duo instead make their living utilizing their encyclopedic knowledge of plants and fungi, pillaging small forests for material that can be sold to the hottest restaurants in New York City. As you’d expect, their earnings are barely enough to keep a roof over their heads, and while they flinch when others use their bounty for a less sophisticated style of food, it’s clear they’re on the outside of the industry looking in. Though he doesn’t reveal his disappointment vocally, all you need to do is observe Lucien’s shoulders sinking as his found mushrooms are planned for a more conventional, crowd-pleasing plate.
“Now, Forager” is hardcore, in a sense, in that it’s a slowly paced drama that will surely play well to those most deeply immersed in the world of culinary arts. The conflict in the film mostly derives from Lucien and Regina’s encounters with other cooks and food enthusiasts, none of whom have the duo’s pointed expertise. It’s very much as if “Sideways” didn’t feature Thomas Haden Church’s tomcatting wine amateur, a whole lot of inside baseball presented in a straightforward manner. We only know a recipe is “lesser” because of Lucien’s unspoken tantrums or Regina’s subtly defeated body language.
The tension between the couple becomes a detriment early on, but what’s dispiriting is that both of them struggle without each other, thinking their somewhat-polite snobbery is enough to get them somewhere. Lucien ends up catering a large party for an upscale Washington D.C. housewife, where his ambitious tastes are frowned upon, and he’s saddled with unreasonable expectations from those who know far less about the food he’s preparing. Regina similarly branches out, hired to run a small-town diner, but they’ve hired her for her management skills, and not her kitchen aptitude. Turns out, changing the recipes already beloved by the locals isn’t the best management strategy.
Part of the drama in seeing this couple break off in different directions is the possibility that they may come together. However, there’s little-to-no chemistry between these two actors. It’s one of those real-life movie dichotomies — we all know of couples that seem strange together, that don’t fit, that seem awkward. But in movies, you have to establish that if a couple is together, it’s for a reason. While Lucien and Regina carry the same passion for food, specifically in the preparation, the duo spends almost the entire movie gloomy and distracted. Jason Cortland (who co-directed with Julia Halperin) and Tiffany Esteb are the stars, and you can’t even imagine how they’ve ever shared a conversation. Lucien remains dedicated to his punk-rock contrarian attitude, a grown man who still uses the word “sellout” when someone lands a respectable 9-to-5 job. Regina, meanwhile, is responsible to the point of being a task-master, and of the two, she seems more concerned with her encroaching thirty-something mortality.
Without that central relationship, “Now, Forager” just seems slack. Neither Cortlund nor Esteb are particularly expressive actors, he with his slope-browed poker face and her with only a sly, mature smile, and their scenes together have an uneasy, unfocused energy. It’s not enough that they’re food snobs, either — they mention casual friends and acquaintances, but they’re all offscreen, casting a light onto the suggestion that they don’t get along with many people. And for ninety minutes, why should we get along with them? [C]