By Mark Ziobro
Cary Patrick Martin writes and directs this short comedy about the trials and tribulations of language when an immigrant who speaks little to no English attempts to order breakfast at the local diner. The film is tightly focused at only 12 minutes and features but 3 actors: Pablo (played by Memo), the waitress (played by Dierdre MacNamara), and Camila (played by Rocio Mendez). The film, which ran the risk for satire is luckily well done and grounded in a common frustration – trying to get by in a language you don’t speak, and how lucky you are if you find a confidant to help you. Mild annoyances of both customers and the wait staff line its run-time; but, by the end of “Coffee and a Donut” you are greeted with a warm comedy that makes you feel better for having watched it – a credit to Martin’s writing and direction.
Yes, “Coffee and a Donut” is a comedy, and as such, you’re meant to laugh. However, you’re meant to laugh at the awkwardness of Pablo as he negotiates the seemingly simple task of ordering a breakfast; but you’re not meant to laugh at him. The film is full of not just verbal misunderstandings but non verbal ones as well. The most apt as Pablo stands at the door, unaware that he can just take a seat at the counter, as his fellow customers zoom by him in the midst of their morning routines. One customer orders a “coffee and a donut,” and thus becomes the only thing Pablo knows how to order. It becomes such a “staple” for the young man that the waitress, clueless, thinks he only prefers it. It isn’t until Pablo meets Camila, who also speaks Spanish, that she realizes he is only ordering this simple food because he doesn’t know how to order anything else.
What works about this film is that Pablo’s situation exists in a reality where many immigrants (or us Americans in a foreign country) would likely find themselves staring at a menu with nothing to grab onto for familiarity. The waitress isn’t mean, just busy; as she goes about her day she ignores Pablo’s requests to order something more until he finally finds his voice to stand up for himself.
For an indie film, Martin knows what he is doing, from the acting, to the cinematography, to the length (which is just as important, if not more so, for Indie shorts to be successful).
The film features shots of brightly lit interiors and takes place all in one location – the busy street corner diner that lines the film’s run-time. It’s the kind of place we have all been; a row of seats line the outside, a counter the center, with harried wait staff with only moments to take each customer’s order making Pablo’s unique set of circumstances both humorous and appropriate.
But, as aforementioned, Martin seeks not to make fun, but to educate. Some of the nicest scenes take place between Camila and Pablo as the former attempts to teach the latter how to order different things in English. By the time Pablo learns how to order “Southwest Omelette with Hash Browns,” we know the hard work and dedication that went into the productions.
Martin is also subtly yet not so subtly making a case for empathy at the hands of those who may not speak the language. There’s no immigrant bashing in his film. Pablo encounters the usual frustrations of trying to order in a language he doesn’t understand (a frustration this writer shares every summer when he attempts to order breakfast in Montréal in native French), but doesn’t encounter adversary from local residents. This is not a “go back to your country” film but one of inclusion. We all hope to be helped when trying to speak a language we don’t understand; Camila represents the best of us – a kind soul that takes the time out of her days to help Pablo for no other reason than kinship towards her fellow man.
“Coffee and a Donut” is a good film. It’s directed and acted well, is funny, and offers some food for thought (no pun intended) on the wait service trade as well as highlighting some of the things we take for granted as we order our breakfast each morning. It’s short but powerful, and the type of comedy that saw it win ‘Best Short Film’ at the Big Apple Film Festival and Screenplay Competition. Looking for a warm film that’s both short and sweet? Here you go.