Review by Sean Boelman
A biography of one of the most unconventional figures in culinary history, Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is a must-watch for any foodie cinephiles. A compelling and entertaining documentary thanks to the charming personality of its subject, this film may not break any new ground, but it’s satisfying nevertheless.
The movie tells the story of British chef Diana Kennedy who, at the age of ninety-seven, still presides as one of the foremost experts on Mexican cuisine. Although most who are fans of cooking will already know Kennedy’s name, some audiences may be surprised to learn that a British woman is one of the best chefs of the style.
Yet this unexpected story plays out in an almost underdog-like way in that it shows that anyone can do anything if they set their minds to it. Although there’s obviously an element of natural talent and aptitude involved in Kennedy’s story, the film focuses on how she became a better chef by learning from the people of the culture she studied.
Above anything else, audiences can learn from the movie the importance of being a citizen of the world. Like many celebrity chefs, Kennedy couldn’t have gotten to where she is without being open-minded to new experiences, and she also faced the challenge of her cooking being based on a tradition that is not her own.
The film does a very good job of building Kennedy into a compassionate subject. It’s absolutely wonderful that she is telling her story through her own eyes and with her own words, giving the movie a much more personal feel than most biographical documentaries of this sort.
Of course, the film features plenty of absolutely scrumptious food shots. Even though Kennedy may not have published a book since 2016, she still very much has it, as is obvious in the scenes of the movie in which she is shown in action. Perhaps the single best part of the film features Kennedy as she prepares a traditional guacamole, with some energetic commentary thrown in.
On a technical level, the movie is very solid, even if it doesn’t deviate much from expectations. Director Elizabeth Carroll tells the story in a straightforward but effective way, letting Kennedy be the focal point of the narrative. There are some interviews and archive footage throughout, but Carroll recognizes that her film’s biggest strength is how lovable Kennedy is, and she takes full advantage of that.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is a delectable little documentary. While it can feel a bit slight at times, at a mere eighty-two minutes in length, it’s a ridiculously entertaining and certainly worthwhile watch.
Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy is now streaming online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.