DVD REVIEW: The Spitfire Grill (1996)

6 point 5

This Warner Archive release is a Manufacture-On-Demand (MOD) DVD. It is made to be played in “play only” DVD devices, and may not play in some DVD recorders or PC drives. This DVD, however, played with no problems in the Toshiba DVD recorder used for this review. This title is available directly from WBShop.com by clicking here.

THE SET-UP

When a young parolee (Alison Elliott) decides to settle down in a small town in Maine, the locals get suspicious, especially when she becomes quick friends with Hannah (Ellen Burstyn), the owner of the Spitfire Grill. Also stars Marcia Gay Harden and Will Patton.
Written and directed by Lee David Zlotoff.   

THE DELIVERY

The winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996 didn’t exactly set the box office on fire when it went into wide release, but it has a loyal fan base that has grown with time. It’s easy to see why, as the film boasts some fine performances, and its bittersweet ending will stick with you. 

The Spitfire Grill is told like a Biblical parable; it is a strong moral tale with a lot of symbolism, and it builds to an emotional climax. Writer/director Lee David Zlotoff (whose claim to fame is creating the classic TV series MacGuyver) elevates what could have been a paint-by-the-numbers chick flick into something far better. It doesn’t descend into the schmaltzy corn like a Lifetime movie, but it will remind you of one. It is sentimental, and the third act tries too hard to create drama, but it remains completely watchable.

Alison Elliott is superb as Percy, a young parolee from a women’s prison who relocates to a town in the Maine woods, seeking a fresh start. Characters with Southern drawls are usually terribly done in film, but Elliott manages to pour it on thick without sounding ridiculous. She’s an outstanding actress, and her ability to win over the audience makes the film work.

Ellen Burstyn is excellent as Hannah, owner of the Spitfire Grill; she is one of the few actresses who seems to be able to have chemistry with any actor she works with. Seriously, have you ever seen her in a bad role? Percy and Hannah, with co-worker Shelby (Marcia Gay Harden) hatch a plan to sell the Spitfire Grill with an essay contest, but the town becomes suspicious of Percy’s motives, and Shelby’s jealous husband (Will Patton) makes things worse.

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Sure, you know the good times won’t last and something bad will happen in the third act. The melodramatic turn does stretch believability (the town goes into witch-hunt mode pretty easily), but it doesn’t go off the deep end completely, and the ending does tie things up a bit too neatly. It may be formulaic, but it somehow works without feeling too manipulative. The Spitfire Grill may not be a classic, but it is a nice little film that you’ll enjoy and won’t soon forget. Have tissue handy.

VIDEO AND AUDIO

The standard DVD transfer features excellent video, with good detail, but it isn’t as sharp as it should be. The Maine countryside looks very good, with natural color reproduction, but you’ll wish it had better detail to appreciate the scenery. The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound doesn’t have much of a surround effect, but the clarity is good and dialogue stands out properly over the music. 

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SPECIAL FEATURES

An original theatrical trailer is included. The DVD also offers scene selection, something not always available on Warner Archive releases.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR NETFLIX IT?

Ratings (1-10 scale)

Movie: 8

Video: 7

Audio: 7

Extras: 4

Overall grade: 6.5

The Spitfire Grill is much better than you expect. Dramatic and sentimental, it is elevated by outstanding performances by Elliott, Burstyn, and Harden. This has been a hard movie to find on DVD, so fans will likely want to snatch it up. If you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth a rent. 

DVD SPECS

Release Date: July 13, 2013

Rating: PG-13

Running time: 116 minutes

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English and French

Special features: Theatrical trailer

Label: Warner Archive

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