In order to get out of yet another physical education requirement in college, I halfheartedly signed up for the most convenient health class that would fit into my schedule. Enrolled in Foods and Nutrition, I found myself growing even hungrier day by day as our obsessive teacher railed against the perils of entrees overflowing with fat and sugar and like a preacher, going off on tangents including only one I still remember to this day which is her belief that in order to solve America’s obesity problem, we should find a way to stop emotionalizing food. From comfort food, to chocolates on Valentine’s Day, to cookies at Christmas, to countless dinners on first dates, she warned that as long as we made food a part of a bonding ritual to get closer to another person, we were going to grow larger. While on one hand, she may have had a point, on the other, despite the discomfort most of us feel about the nerve-racking first date dinner audition, she failed to recognize that not only is getting to know someone fun but in doing so, sometimes it’s nice to share food as well or as Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin put it in his newest film, sometimes we just want someone to eat cheese with.
Part Italian, I’m a cheese lover from way back whether it is cooked into dishes like ziti or piled onto pizza, the title instantly attracted me and after watching the entire movie, I can happily say that the charms of the entire film go way beyond its cute title. Previously known to me as Jeff, one of my favorite Curb characters who as Larry David’s agent/loyal sidekick has a laid back manner and willingness to go along with whatever ridiculous situation the two find themselves in, no questions asked, Garlin makes us forget that more scheming character within minutes of Cheese but keeps one important trait and that is his willingness to let others shine and go along with the given situation. Possibly indicative of his own background working on Second City, Garlin’s character James may be our main character but is consistently upstaged by the rest of the cast. However, he’s the heart of our film as, in an update of the classic Oscar winning Marty, to which Cheese makes several references, we follow the thirty-nine year old struggling actor who works on Second City while looking for his big break, living with his mother (Mina Kolb) and trying to meet a nice woman.
Overweight and frustrated, James is the type of character who would’ve driven my Nutrition professor nuts with his nightly ritual of going to the local mom and pop market to buy snacks filled with sugar and fat such as his beloved rice pudding from a shopkeeper who, like a bartender to an alcoholic, always wants to cut him off. Prone to leaving his Overeaters Anonymous meeting (of which he is the only male) during the final silent meditation and hanging around with his scene-stealing best friend Luca (David Pasquesi), things begin looking up for James when he meets the wacky, hot, ice cream server Beth (Sarah Silverman) who teases James with ice cream delights and a trip lingerie shopping as they embark on an awkward courtship. While Silverman’s Beth is arguably the most enticing yet maddeningly odd girl James has probably ever come into contact with, he also meets cute with Stella, a like-minded jazz fan and teacher (Bonnie Hunt), who may be better suited to the self-loathing James.
Far from having everything work out in a predictable manner, the freewheeling Cheese, although written by its star Garlin, feels refreshingly improvised and inspiringly natural in even the most ridiculous situations and not only will it make Garlin’s Curb fans look at him in a new light but it’s also great date fare for those of us who, like James are also looking for someone to eat cheese with. And as Larry David might say, that’s “pretty, pretty, pretty good” indeed.