Reporting from the Denver Film Festival.
Betsey (Jessica Alexander) refuses to eat. Her mother, Holly (Sienna Guillory), is understandably concerned. Anytime a teenage girl pushes the plate away, mom wants answers. And Holly appears to be a pretty top-level shelf to boot—topping grilled fish with lemon slices is going the extra mile, especially if you know one person at the table couldn’t care less.
But Betsey hasn’t stopped eating because she’s lost the taste for fish or has body dysmorphia, but because she thinks her body is a vessel destined for something more. That might explain why even though she doesn’t eat, Betsey stays the same weight. And why she can’t eat, not even one little pea.
Grandma (Lindsay Duncan) has a thought: An ancient Japanese myth of a woman who grows a mouth in the back of her head so she can feed sumptuously while her husband sleeps. Mom buys it about as much as she buys Betsey’s fasting. But A Banquet, directed by Ruth Paxton from a script by Justin Bell, takes both possibilities deadly serious. Too serious, really, turning a bizarre premise into a dour affair. The cinematography is steely and bland, the editing is languid, and the atmosphere is stuffy, as if the filmmakers are waiting for one of the characters to break the whole thing open. Maybe Betsey’s sister, Isabelle (Ruby Stokes). She doesn’t.