Day 94: Pressure Cooker (2008)

I feel like my Netflix queue is on the verge of being capped off yet again. With every film I add, I keep my fingers crossed that the title goes through. The feeling reminds me of what it was like when I was a college student and I withdrew money from the ATM. I would always exhale a sigh of relief when the money came out of the machine and my receipt said I still had funds in the account. I breathe that same sigh of relief when Netflix allows me to add another title to my queue. Now, you don’t hit the limit of movies in your queue without some help. I watch a lot of trailers, and like a perfect little consumer, tend to be excited about the movies after I see the commercials for them. And so these films find their way to my list.


Other times, I become a fan of certain actors/writers/directors and decide that it would be a good idea to watch all of the shows someone did to see how it compares to the mind-blowingly awesome piece I just saw.  F.Y.I., 9 times out of 10, these films lead to bitter disappointment, and I vow to never watch a film by that celebrity again. Ultimately, like most of my threats, I cave. And that, my friends is the story of how Gulliver’s Travels ended up in my queue.


And finally, there are the recommendations. God, I can’t resist a good (well, any) recommendation. If I am talking to someone and they tell me that a particular show is worth seeing, I add it. If they tell me a certain show is embarrassingly awful, I add it. And, if Netflix tells me I may like it, I will more than likely add that bad boy to the queue.


This brings me to Pressure Cooker. Netflix said that based on my interest in social & cultural documentaries and food & wine, that I might like Pressure Cooker. I should point out that Netflix didn’t say “food and wine shows,” just “food and wine.” This is creepily accurate. I kind of feel like a glass of Merlot and a piece of carrot cake, now that they mention it. Oh well. Say no more, Netflix—I added it. And there it sat for a while. I like to call this process “curing” a film to reach the full flavor. After aged to perfection, the film was ready for viewing. Long story short: I watched it. Didn’t see that coming, did you?


Set in inner city Philadelphia, Pressure Cooker follows a class of high school culinary arts students as they prepare for and participate in a city wide cooking competition. Their teacher, Wilma Stephenson, is tough and expects only the best from her students. She pushes her class to perform to her high standards in order to win scholarships awarded by the competition. The documentary focuses primarily on three students in the class, showing the obstacles they must face in order to compete.


On paper, this film seems like it would be right up my alley. It is inspiring and uplifting. As I was watching the documentary, I was cheering for the class. I wanted to see them succeed, just as Stephenson wanted them to do. And, I have to admit, that I felt a warm feeling in my heart as I watched the film.


Although I really wanted to love Pressure Cooker, I didn’t. I guess I didn’t dislike it, but I felt like story elements were missing. Perhaps I am too inquisitive (I should ask my mom if I was always the kid who said “why?” all the time), but, in the words of the immortal Cate Blanchett in Indy 4: “I vant to know.” I would love it if the film would have spent some time focusing on Stephenson, the teacher. Clearly, she has a story and I wanted to know what influenced her to work as a teacher of culinary arts. I think that this information would have provided the story with more depth.


Also, I appreciated that the film focused on a few teens to follow, but I felt that the focus on these students was very selective. The documentary only shows their life in the culinary arts class and a bit of their home life. However, I felt that a brief address of the students’ other activities would have helped. Are they involved in extracurricular activities? How do they view school overall? Do they have to hold part time jobs? While Pressure Cooker did show that one of these students was a football player, I would have liked to see the other teens’ lives briefly highlighted, allowing the audience to relate to them even more. Or maybe I just ask too many questions.


I thought I would be raving about Pressure Cooker. I love to watch food shows and to cook, so the subject is appealing. I just wish that the filmmakers would have taken a little more time to provide a more depth to the people they followed. While I understand the focus of the documentary was the cooking competition, I found these scenes to drag and be a little boring. I was far more interested in the lives of the students and the teacher who inspired them.


Have a wonderful day!


Score: C-

Watch Instantly Queue: 207

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