Great characters with great stories are always a winning recipe
I had the pleasure of viewing "Pressure Cooker" at the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, Mo. My first thought was that the culinary angle of the film would provide its uniqueness, or it's own flavor if you will, but cooking is merely the vehicle for a human drama about students and their passionate teacher simply trying to create an opportunistic future.
The most appealing part of the film is the unique sense of humor provided by its characters. What really makes for a great documentary is an enigmatic or totally original character(s). Creators Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker find that character in Wilma, an outspoken and emotional lady with an in-your-face attitude but a heart of gold filled with nothing but love for her students. The humor she adds is what draws you into the film, developing a first impression that you are bound to regret making one the film ends and you see her for who she truly is.
The directors also found three amazing students with compelling stories to focus on: the cheerleader who lives with her dad and is responsible for her blind sister, the football star who is the man of his household and an African immigrant who wants nothing more than to succeed on her own in a new country. At first you feel disappointed that the film is not more focused on the cooking, but as you get to know these students, who take to the camera with such ease, really opening themselves up, you become so invested in them that it's what happens to them that matters most.
This film easily could have easily been just about the competition of trying to get scholarships, relying on that suspense alone as a hinge, but the directors turn it into something much different and much more meaningful. They strive instead to show a complete picture of the lives of these students while showing how cooking fits in. The choice creates sort of a lack of clear narrative structure at the beginning, hopping from one character-revealing scene to the next, but once the scholarship competition nears, everything falls logically into place and the film delivers emotionally at the end.
"Pressure Cooker" is a really easy doc to watch, full of humor and most importantly those compelling characters with compelling stories. Grausman and Becker appear to have only needed to be there with cameras to get a great film, but to their credit, it's well-edited, picking great moments to let their story shine.
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