‘The Lunch Date’: Uncovering a Shared Humanity

A short film that leaves us laughing and pleased at what happens when someone misses her train.
‘The Lunch Date’: Uncovering a Shared Humanity
A Lady (Scotty Bloch) sits in a diner, in "Lunch Date." (Columbia University College of the Arts)

NR | 10 min | Drama, Short Film | 1989

As a 25-year-old American actor and TV director, Adam Davidson was still in school when he released his black-and-white debut film, which won the Academy Award for Short Film (Live Action), and the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes.

This lightly comic film is like a stage play, perhaps inspired by Mr. Davidson’s father’s legacy: American stage and film director Gordon Davidson was founding artistic director of the Center Theatre Group, one of America’s most influential nonprofit theater companies. The soundtrack features two part-lively, part-meditative pieces by renowned Broadway composers: George Gershwin’s “Let’s Be Lonesome Together” and Jule Styne’s “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.”

A fur-hatted, heavily coated, luxuriously gloved woman (Scotty Bloch), sporting ostentatious pearl earrings, arrives at a bustling train station square. Laden with handbag and shopping bags, and hurrying toward her platform, she absent-mindedly bumps into a man. Her belongings spill out; annoyed, she almost refuses his help as he picks them up. Worse, when she races to the platform, her train has left.

Fuming, and more than a little tearful, she strolls to a deserted diner at the station, orders salad from the lone waiter (Paul Sarnoff), lays her bags down, and sits for a quick bite before the next train. But when she goes to fetch cutlery and returns, she finds seated there, another man (Clebert Ford). He’s plump, scruffy, ill-shaven, and contentedly munching salad dressing. Aghast, she cries, “That’s my salad!”

The man smirks, half smiling and continues wolfing down the salad. Insistent, she tries to seize the plate, but he slams his fist on the table, yelling forbiddingly. Enraged, but helpless, she sticks out her fork, nails a piece of salad from his plate and swallows it, not slowing even to chew. Her eyes are wide open, as if innocent of some alleged mischief. The man ignores her and keeps chomping. Emboldened, she takes another stab at the salad. He’s nonchalant. Now visibly slowing, she starts to enjoy her pickings from his plate, half-smiling at the strangeness of it all. She softens when, as she’s about to leave, he orders cups of coffee, and hands her one.

Time for her train. Wordlessly, she rises and leaves the diner. At the square she freezes. Her shopping bag! She scampers back. Too late. The diner is deserted. And she can’t see her bag. Sick with worry, she paces that empty aisle; she glances at something repeatedly, yet doesn’t quite notice it. When she does, she stops, open-mouthed, and stomps her foot down in glee, then breaks into a wide, childlike grin. There, in that lonely diner, she finds more than her bag.

Adam Davidson, director of "Lunch Date." (Rotten Tomatoes)
Adam Davidson, director of "Lunch Date." (Rotten Tomatoes)

Short, But Sweet

It’s the woman’s harried emotional state that prevents her from seeing the truth. She’d clearly spent too long shopping and suspects she’s late for her train. So, she sees others falsely, suspiciously, as possible threats, or obstacles. When the man bumping into her apologetically bends down to help, she mutters accusingly, “Don’t bother … you’re making me miss my train.”

Credit for why this film works so well goes to Mr. Davidson’s sensitive screenwriting, scene choreography, and camera placements, but Bloch and Ford shine, too. In that final scene Bloch exclaims her delight, filled with a new perceptiveness. She skitters like a schoolgirl so easily that it’s hard to believe that only moments ago she was a cranky lady. In his only scene at the diner, Ford’s fist-slamming “Hey!” is the only word he speaks, but his eyes convey irritation, then understanding, and generosity and, finally, contentment.

At times, Mr. Davidson’s camera doubles up as the woman’s eyes: squinting at giant boards announcing arrivals, departures, cancellations, and delays, or stumbling upon the man at the diner, or spotting the deserted corner he’s just left. At other times, the camera speaks to us by pointing at her as she misses her train, or at others; for instance, the amused waiter at his food counter, who seems to see and know something that we don’t.

Theatrical poster for "Lunch Date." (Columbia University School of the Arts)
Theatrical poster for "Lunch Date." (Columbia University School of the Arts)

Mr. Davidson’s two characters meet as if on an accidental, if comical, date, representing typical sex, age, race, and class differences. Through them, he reflects on finding a shared humanity even amid those differences. The woman is white, the man at the diner is black. She’s visibly rich; he isn’t, at least not noticeably. She’s middle-aged, he’s younger.

Mr. Davidson nudges you to rethink often overlooked or hidden common ground, and often exaggerated, if obvious, differences. Centering his two characters, he silhouettes everyone else at that station; you barely see another face. Spotlighting two people, he comments on us all.

You can watch “The Lunch Date” on YouTube.
The Lunch DateDirector: Adam Davidson Starring: Scotty Bloch, Clebert Ford MPAA Rating: Not Rated Running Time: 10 minutes Release Date: Dec. 1989 Rated: 5 stars out of 5
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Rudolph Lambert Fernandez is an independent writer who writes on pop culture.
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