I underestimated this film. When I first saw the trailer for City of Gold (while waiting for The Witch) I turned to my best friend and said something along the lines of “Looks like an average white savior movie… but I’ll still probably see it.” She laughed and agreed and I didn’t really think about the film again, until the opportunity to review it landed on my plate.
I couldn’t possibly say no. I love food documentaries more than I love most people. I’m the kind of person who watches Somm or A Matter of Taste or Chef’s Table when I’m feeling down, because they’ll make me feel better than calling up a friend and talking about my problems. So as much as I knew I was going to enjoy City of Gold, I didn’t really expect too much. Now, those three are the gold standard when it comes to food documentaries. While City of Gold may not be as fantastic as they are, it was far better than I anticipated.
Following the story of Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, City of Gold illustrates how he got into the business of writing about food, and how (unlike most critics) he prefers to focus on small, mom and pop joints found in strip malls, food trucks, and stands all around LA. From Mexican, to Korean, to Vietnamese, Gold covers it all with passion that oozes off the screen. It’s clear from the beginning that this was something he was made to do.
It’s easy to assume that the main character of the movie is Gold, and he is obviously the driving force of the film, but it becomes clearer and clearer he is not the main focus. This is a movie about the city of Los Angeles. About its nooks and crannies, it’s shifts and consistencies. Jonathan Gold, while important to the story, is simply a man who chronicles the ever changing culinary scene of the city. Highlighting the places white people who read food reviews in the LA Times normally wouldn’t visit, that’s if they even knew these kinds of places existed.
That’s not to say the documentary doesn’t spend time showcasing Gold’s personal story. Some of the best parts of the doc are when he narrates a few of his many excellent reviews (which is a lot better than it sounds, trust me), but what elevates the film is how often it shifts focus from Gold, on to the community of chefs his reviews have highlighted. City of Gold is full of stories from first generation and second generation immigrants whose businesses have been able to survive (and even thrive) in LA, and it’s truly fascinating.
If you’ve had a long week, and you’re looking to order a pizza, crack open a beer, and watch a feel good film, you’ve come to the right place. Nothing in City of Gold is going to challenge or surprise you. The film doesn’t have an antagonistic bone in it’s body, and that’s okay. It’s okay to make something nice and happy and fun. We all need to watch movies like this sometimes.