The new Shopsin’s movie is everything I wanted it to be, even though it’s not necessarily a great movie. Kenny Shopsin is a fascinating person, to say the least. He and his family represent genuine New York character–real quirkiness that isn’t manufactured by studios who paint kitschy sets and want you to believe in the magic fairyland of New York City. There isn’t the tiniest droplet of sentimentality in this movie and thank God for that. Instead, you get a behind-the-scenes look at a man who may be a genius, the family he created and the restaurant where they all thrive. Watching Kenny in his kitchen is like watching Picasso in his studio: he wields his pans and his tongs like a true master, and you will delight in the many strange contraptions and techniques he concocts to prepare his food. (My favorite was the way he glazed the glazed pancakes: he set a metal spatula directly over a flame, sprinkled sugar on top of a pancake and then seared the sugar with the hot spatula. The sound it makes will make you smile.)
The movie itself is jagged. While there’s a story being told–the movie takes place when Shopsin’s relocates from Bedford to Carmine (and, by the way, I had no idea that the old Shopsin’s location is where Snack Taverna stands today—Snack Taverna’s one of my favorite Village restaurants)–the storytelling isn’t particularly arresting. You have the old Shopsin’s, you have the landlord raise the rent, you have the scouting out of a new restaurant (which does, indeed, make for a few wonderfully dramatic scenes) and then you have the move. Not a ton of conflict or rising action, but certainly lots of opportunity to see Kenny being Kenny. And what a joy he is to watch, to listen to, to get grossed out by (he compares separating eggs with his hands to the pleasures of “feeling pussy.”) The Shopsins legacy is a proud one and much of that pride rests on the shoulders of this man whose vision is clear, whose passion is sincere, and whose way of running a restaurant is so idiosyncratic that one might frame an entire philosophy or system of government on its credos.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if this movie is playing anywhere other than New York City. It’s a shame because the world this movie lets you into is a world of real New York charm, eloquence, humor, love and invention. Spending 80 minutes with the man who combined pancakes and macaroni and cheese to make macaroni and cheese pancakes is a real treat. Let’s hope it goes to DVD or gets picked up by HBO in the near future.