The Girl in the Café (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"Three hours next to the dullest man in Canada. And that's a pretty competitive category."

 - diplomat's wife in The Girl in the Café -

Writer Richard Curtis (Four Weddings, Love Actually) always seems to write a part for Hugh Grant. I suppose Hughie is his alter ego. Regrettably, Mr. Grant appears to have been unavailable for this role, so the Grant part - the stammering Londoner maladroit at courtship - fell to Bill Nighy, who had previously stolen another Curtis show as the fading rock star in Love Actually. Nighy manages to go Grant one better in the stammering department, and takes the character even further inside himself by refusing ever to make eye contact with anyone. In fact, Nighy's interpretation lacks any of Grant's jaunty manner, so he takes lines that Grant would suffuse with knowing Wildean irony and turns them into something more like "humor offered tentatively." Nighy plays a 60ish senior-level civil servant in the Exchequer's office whose entire life is his financial calculations. He's the ultimate policy wonk, and he is so lonely, so deferential, and so lacking in social graces that he fairly begs for our pity from his first appearance on camera. His life seems to have settled into the routine that will carry forward indefinitely until death -  when a chance meeting changes everything.

As he takes his fifteen minute tea break one day, with a timid eye on his watch so as not to keep his masters waiting, he has a chance meeting with a girl in a café, simply because the spot across from her is the only available seat. It turns out that she is just as shy and lonely as he is, but they initiate some sort of glacially slow courtship. In time, he must attend the G-8 summit in Iceland and his job level allows him to bring a significant other, so he invites the only woman he knows socially - the girl in the café. By the time they arrive in Iceland together, he has never kissed her nor even held her hand, does not know her last name, knows nothing of her back-story, and is not even aware that they will have to share a single room with a single bed!

They manage to work through the uncomfortable moments, mostly by confining their conversations to the problems faced at the G-8 summit. Eventually the girl will accompany Nighy to various dinners and cocktail parties, where she will share her compassionate, idealistic world-view with just about every important world leader. And maybe, just maybe, her simple and emotional pleas will affect the world.

Or not.

I think you can deduce from that description that the global portion of the film has some problems in the plausibility department. The relationship portion, however, works quite well. Curtis took on an almost insurmountable challenge - how can one take two painfully shy Londoners and somehow get them sharing a room in Iceland without ever having held hands before, and without knowing anything about one another? Somehow, he solved this puzzle successfully and credibly.

As for the politics?

Well ...

The Girl in the Café was made with a very specific agenda. It was the Curtis contribution to the Make Poverty History/Live 8 campaign. In essence, Curtis was challenged to make a film that would reinforce the group's goal of halting world poverty, and would express in artistic and emotional terms the ideas which others were charged to express in songs or spreadsheets, according to their talents.

  • If you know about that going in, and you're OK with it, you may find this to be a painfully slow but effective film, not very entertaining, and too low-key and melancholy to generate much interest to casual renters, but nonetheless touching in many small ways, and appealing to more discriminating moviegoers.

  • If you know about that and feel that it is a great idea, you may join a legion of others who found this film a profoundly moving experience.

  • If you don't like the sound of the agenda, you'll find that the film is filled with black-and-white politics and extremely unlikely events in macrocosm, although you may still enjoy the small, realistic moments which take place between the lovers.



  • widescreen, anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • writer/director commentary
  • three short deleted scenes
  • short featurette



Kelly MacDonald shows her breasts when she joins Bill Nighy in bed.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online except Variety, which doesn't assign a score.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.1/10, and the score could be higher. Almost everyone scored it seven or higher.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, a film made to push an agenda, which does a good job of doing so. Thus, you may find it heavy-handed if you are neutral to or skeptical of its agenda. If you support its agenda, namely that the current generation should resolve to end world poverty, devil be damned, then you will love the movie unless you are allergic to slow-moving, character-based films. I liked the small moments enough that I forgave some of the obvious flaws elsewhere.

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