The culinary-cinema landscape is rich in history. From eye-opening documentaries to profound stories of humanity, so many films centered on the food world have secured a place in our cultural consciousness. And now, joining these hallowed halls of cinematic achievement, is Grace Stirs Up Success, an American Girl movie.
Okay, but for real though, I wine-cried during this movie more than once.
You're a few sentences into this article and probably asking, "What does this have to do with food or restaurants?" and "The American Girl doll company makes movies?" and "Are you drunk?" The answers are actually a lot, apparently, and yes.
The MasterChef Junior reality show is the Chekhov's gun of this cinematic masterpiece.
In the last few years, cooking and baking have become the new arts and crafts for countless children. Just look at the rise of the reality TV cooking competitions like MasterChef Junior (and Eater's — dare I say — excellent coverage of it) and Chopped's child-competitor episodes. These shows and their affiliated merch are objective cash cows. It's no surprise then that the American Girl company, which is known for charging as much for a doll as half of the French Laundry tasting menu, wanted in on the action.
Grace Stirs Up Success is basically an (almost two-hour-long) infomercial for macarons. The plot is simple, really. It follows nine-year-old perfectionist Grace (played by Olivia Rodrigo) from her grandparents' bakery, to her own cupcake business, to Paris where she works at her uncle's patisserie (which she saves thanks to her hijinks), to the set of MasterChef Junior, back to her grandparents' bakery where she saves their business, too. Easy to follow for any elementary school child, right?
You read that correctly: A nine-year-old girl saves not one, but two failing food service businesses in the course of this movie. I have no idea what it takes to actually sustain a bakery in a New England town nor in the middle of Paris, but I'm pretty sure that reality shows and street-dwelling French bulldogs aren't typically the answers (and yes, those are the real solutions for those businesses, respectively).
I assume that Eater asked me to watch this movie not to weird out my neighbors and cable company, but because of the MasterChef Junior tie-in. The reality show is the Chekhov's gun of this cinematic masterpiece. Grace sees a call for submissions when she's scrolling through recipes on her iPad, and then doesn't find out that she was selected (thanks to a secret application via her grandmother) until well over an hour into this thing.
This movie captures the essence of MasterChef Junior, as long as you define "essence" as Joe Bastianich's presence (which ironically, is no longer part of MasterChef Junior). And aside from the very famous (in Italy, according to him) judge, the show is not much like Fox's program. Before I get into the glaring differences, though, I want to list the things the movie version has that the real one always features:
· A kid from New York City
· A kid who's a real know-it-all because his parents own a restaurant
· A kid with a swoop of man-bangs
In the movie, all of these stereotypical contestants were combined into one pineapple-stealing-future-boy-band-looking nightmare named Carter (like, of course that's his name). In addition to Carter, the show also had the reality-TV requirement of an ungodly long pause with dramatic music before announcing the winner.
It took a doll company producing a fictionalized, straight-to-DVD movie about MasterChef Junior for a girl to win it.
As for major differences, the entire competition starts and ends in one episode. The contestants make one dessert, get judged, some kids go home or whatever, then there's a final challenge, and then someone wins. Missing also, aside from the two more-notable judges of Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot, is a boy winning the whole competition. [Spoiler alert: Grace wins. Don't let this piece of information stop you from still seeing this movie, though.]
That's right, it took a doll company producing a fictionalized, straight-to-DVD movie about MasterChef Junior for a girl to win it. In three seasons of the show on television, no girl has won. In fact, only one girl has even been in the final head-to-head competition. Before you get mad, I don't think that the real show should just have a girl win for the sake of a girl being the winner even if she doesn't deserve it. That's never a good practice. However, Grace Stirs Up Success picks up where MasterChef Junior leaves off in terms of encouraging young girls to get involved in the culinary world.
One of the best parts of this movie — besides the multiple scenes where a dog delivers cookies to a person — is that it aggressively promotes the idea of girls doing whatever they want to do. Through the plot — as well as the inspirational pop soundtrack (which is available for purchase and I may or may not have bought it after movie-viewing glass of wine number four) — this movie pushes hard the idea that young girls can do anything they set their minds to, including work in a kitchen.
Grace shows early in the film (I'm using the word "film" because it's so artistic) that she not only enjoys baking in her grandparents' bakery, but she's also pretty talented. Once she leaves her small-town family business and steps into the serious kitchen of her uncle's Parisian patisserie, however, she learns her skills don't quite measure up. Her kitchen issues are less about technique and more about her clumsiness, causing a scene that resembles the board game Mouse Trap — which I'm pretty sure went out of production years before this movie's audience was even born. Whatever the issue, though, Grace learns to put her head down, hone her skills, work with others, and be a leader. No matter how cheesy or schticky that sounds, it's an immeasurably important lesson to pass on to girls.
Growing up, I would've been obsessed with any movie that encouraged me to work hard and go after what I want.
In fact, very few outlets encourage girls to enter male-dominated fields like the restaurant industry at all. I checked out the other movies in the American Girl franchise (and now my Saturday night is all mapped out), and was disappointed that all of the "achievements" celebrated in those films are very female skewing, like dancing and riding horsies and drawing hearts on their notebooks (this last one might not be real, it might have been painting or something). Sure, Grace has business-ownership aspirations, but it's in desserts and baking, the corner of the food world usually reserved for women. I know girls just love cute desserts, but what I wouldn't give to see Grace slicing up some barbecue or delicately plating some sashimi.
I'm a stand-up comic; I know firsthand what it's like to be a woman pursuing what she loves in an almost exclusively male industry. I'm so used to hearing things like, "Women can't be good at comedy," and "You're pretty funny for a woman," and "Ma'am, please do not drink from that bottle of wine with a straw." Growing up, I would have been obsessed with any movie that encouraged me to work hard and go after what I want. If that's what this is for girls who want to grow up to be chefs, then it's such an important movie that I'll ignore the completely nonsensical idea that her family could afford a trip to Paris but not be able to buy her a new bike.
By the end of this hour-and-40-minute experience, I found myself weeping tears of joy (and Pinot Grigio) at the idea of this young girl following her heart, learning how to bake the perfect macaron, and obviously going on to become a successful pastry chef. And despite my seasons of recapping MasterChef Junior, the most familiar thing in this movie was not the shine of the set lights on Joe Bastianich's bald head, but was actually seeing a girl prove that she can do whatever she puts her mind to.
All in all, I give this movie five glasses of wine. That's not a rating system or anything, it's just how much I drank while watching it.
Grace Stirs Up Success is available on DVD June 23; it's currently available on VOD.