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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Movie Review: 'City of Gold'

The foodie doc City of Gold resonates with the flair of a great underground LA restaurant.

Review by Matt Cummings

No matter where you live - outskirts of town, Downtown Wherever, or in the barrio - there are bound to be special places where you eat. For LA food critic Jonathan Gold, it's much more than reporting on the quality of the meal but plugging into the culture of his hometown. This is where the IFC documentary City of Gold finds itself, existing as far more than food criticism or consumption, but on popular criticism itself.

Pulitzer Prize winner and LA Weekly critic Jonathan Gold is as much the subject here as the food he remarks on, gaining adoration from both fans and restaurant owners for his fairness and amiable personality. He samples the most diverse lineup of food you've ever seen (or eaten), most of which is inaccessible to a majority of people living in our country. Beginning as a copy reader for the paper, Gold is the perfect encapsulation of a populist who grew up 'in the system', eating at every restaurant (strip mall to fashionable spread) along a 15-mile stretch of Pico Avenue as he began his writing career. Along the way, he became a sort of local cultural icon, drawing on inspiration from the food he was reviewing. Director Laura Gabbert weaves his story with that of LA's history as Gold misses deadlines and drives his beat up pickup truck to new dining experiences that have become must-reads as a means for planning next week's dinner out.

Using a variety of cameras including drones to capture some very nice POV's of the city, Gabbert is here to celebrate both the diversity of LA and the food that naturally arrives when so many diverse peoples gather in one place. Like the rotund Gold, her style is friendly and unassuming. She's here to capture the moment not remark on it. An aboriginal whose early work included writing about the hip-hop of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, Gold samples hole-in-the-wall locales, while dispelling the rumors about his city's perceived monolithic culture. There's apparently a deep history of food there that isn't being made for tourists or the elite, and it's Gold's job to uncover them.

Seeking testimonials from local restaurateurs on Gold's importance, Gabbert lets his story and that of the sprawling region expand, which apparently has left its residents in a quandry over what their city is becoming. Gold seems like one of the few who put that change in perspective, using the commonality of food to make sense of it all. Some of the ways that Gabbert gets to those points can feel disjointed and take way too long to finish, but the deeper message is clear: every town has its hidden culinary treasures, and she hopes you will seek them out.

City of Gold might not make much sense to those who live in places were commercial eateries dominate, but its journey into what criticism means in the day of Twitter and Yelp is as insightful as the wonderfully diverse food Gold reviews. Watching City of Gold makes you want to drive down to your local strip mall and take a good look at the mom-and-pop places in the hopes of finding that next great meal. Perhaps you've already found it, and if so then Gabbert's work is done.

City of Gold is Rated R for some language and has a runtime of 96 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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