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Mealtime! Film and TV restaurant scenes offer a lot to chew on

Restaurants of all shapes and sizes have been familiar territory for Jack Nicholson during his four-decade film career.

It was 40 years ago when Nicholson made his first big foray into screen dining scenes with his masterful, memorable menu-ordering scene in “Five Easy Pieces,” in the process earning his second Oscar nomination.

Then, 27 years later, in “As Good As It Gets,” he delivered an Oscar-wining performance that included this great restaurant scene and the heart-melting line “You make me want to be a better man.”

(Note: Even if you’re not a big Nicholson fan — you’re not? — stick around because we’ve got a bunch of other memorable movie and TV restaurant/diner scenes that may jog your memory. As always, additional nominees are welcome in the Comment section below.)

Memorable moments
The most memorable may be the Meg Ryan-Billy Crystal scene in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) ending with the deadpan line from director Rob Reiner’s mom during the deli scene: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Speaking of sex, this eating scene in the 1963 Oscar winner “Tom Jones” proves that human appetites — in this case, sex and food — have a certain lusty, intertwined history.

Casual dining — not Albert Finney’s 1700s style but 20th century Americana — figures prominently in two memorable, nostalgic, coming-of-age movies:

“Diner” (1982) which offers a late-’50s macho view of bonding at mealtime gatherings.

 • “American Graffiti,” George Lucas’ 1973 study of growing up. From its opening image of the illuminated “Mel’s drive-in,” the film makes it clear how important the diner is as a community gathering spot for working out many of life’s big and small decisions.  

Gangsters gotta eat, too
Gangsters, too, like to frequent restaurants and diners for pivotal scenes:

• The film heavyweight “The Godfather” (1972)features this restaurant scene as the key moment when Michael Corleone goes over to “the dark side.”

• And TV’s mobster equivalent:  the ambiguous, much-debated ending of “The Sopranos” (1999-2007) Here’s one of many detailed theories of what was going on in the finale.

Serving up laughs
But many classic TV scenes play dinner time for low-brow laughs. The still-beloved “I Love Lucy” series (1951-57) offers two classic Lucille Ball over-the-top “dining” scenes:

• First, Lucy’s Hollywood encounter with actor William Holden at the legendary — and laugh-filled — Brown Derby.

• Then, the Ricardos and the Mertzes square off in a diner “death match.”

The two-woman demolition team, “Laverne & Shirley” (1976-83) managed to surpass that chaos level with one of my wife’s favorites,  “The Diner” scene, also known as “Betty Please.”

An encore for Jack
And then I have to end with one more order of Jack Nicholson restaurant scenes, this one a two-fer showing him at his charming best from the 2003 romantic (and touching) comedy “Something’s Gotta Give.” The movie features two great restaurant scenes thousands of miles apart — Paris, shown here,  and a wrap-up scene in New York.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 04/30/2010 - 11:03 am.

    Reminds me of “My Dinner With Andre” 1981…Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn.

    Can only find clips of it…but maybe enough to recall why it was so intriguing at the time.

    It inspired other film, plays since the simple format offered an easy setting, to explore the either/or of philosophical perspectives, whatever.

  2. Submitted by John Mullen on 04/30/2010 - 01:09 pm.

    Diner scene + Gangsters = Pulp Fiction

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