As threatened last month, College Humor have now released their first feature-length film, “Coffee Town“. The film is out today digitally via iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu among other Video On Demand platforms, with a theatrical release to follow next month. This movie is currently ranked #22 on iTunes’ Top Movies chart.
Why are baristas depicted as some of the angriest characters in film and television? Is this the type of character that audiences like to see? Does everyone relate to having a nasty barista serve them coffee while plainly displaying how much they hate their lives? This film is like a dissertation in that trope, and while “Coffee Town” sucks for a wide variety of reasons – which I’ll outlay in the ensuing paragraphs – it most especially sucks for milking this tired stereotype well past the point of completion. Enough already.
I covered the “Coffee Town” trailer last month and had little enthusiasm for the film, which writer-director Brad Copeland conceived of during a Starbucks visit. The film – clearly meant to be irreverent – is about a group of misfits who stage a fake robbery at a coffee shop, in order to keep said shop from becoming a trendy bistro. Not a moment goes by without a poorly written joke about AIDS, Down’s syndrome, the fundamental hilarity of rape culture, and a laundry list of other “edgy” topics. The film is littered with unclever dialogue and continuity errors. Pointing out each flaw individually would be tedium itself. I would rather focus this review on how Copeland’s lazy writing makes for another negative depiction of baristas in film and television.
The head barista at “Coffee Town”, Sam, is played by Josh Groban. This is not the schmaltzy singer’s first foray into comedic acting: He guest starred in episodes of Ally McBeal and The Office, and played Emma Stone’s self-involved boyfriend in the 2011 film “Crazy Stupid Love“. The film in question is clearly attempting to bank on the shock of seeing Groban as a foul mouthed barista, who is of course also trying to make it as a singer-songwriter. Sam is the film’s primary antagonist, often criticizing the real main character, Will (played by Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia fame). The plot is a bunch of predictable gobbledeegook about how Will uses too much free WiFi, and they’re both in love with the same girl. Hi-jinx ensue, including dueling fake robberies, and at one point Mr. Howerton performs a song about stirring latte foam as a sexual euphemism.
But back to the barista trope. Sam (Groban) is a deeply unpleasant character and immediately fulfills every grumpy, dissatisfied barista stereotype you could possibly imagine. Brad Copeland, unfortunately, takes this concept further, making Sam the only truly unhappy and unlikeable character in the film by the end of its 100+ minutes. That Copeland is a bad comedy writer is plain from how poorly he constructs one-liners, but he also makes the rookie mistake of failing to empathize with his fractured characters. Sam is not only a bad barista, he’s a bad musician and he has a hard time hiding his insecurities. His pride puts him in a financial bind when he refuses to acknowledge customers who try to tip. He’s a one-note loser asshole who, by the dint of Copeland’s sloppy plot, somehow manages to get away with criminal malfeasance and epically terrible customer service. His customer-rival, Will, winds up getting the girl in the end, and the last scene of the film features Will publicly shaming Sam, who remains unhappily employed at the shop.
Can’t we just have one movie where Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson or someone, ANYONE plays a barista who goofily loves her job? How about that hunky Chris Pratt pulling bar shifts at an awesome midwestern specialty cafe? Or maybe Emma Watson, playing against type as gosh-shucks hayseed San Francisco transplant, doing her best to avoid the seedier side of the city and getting taken in by its vibrant barista community. It could just be a cameo; anything to offset crappy characters like this who make us all look like miserable barrel-scrapers. Films like “Coffee Town” do not accurately depict the barista lifestyle or work requirements; like Ray from Girls before him, Sam is a terrible manager and should have been fired years ago with all that bad attitude. At least Bash from Bunheads has won some barista competitions.
But the sad truth is, these stereotypes sell. There’s a reason why CollegeHumor chose “Coffee Town” to be its first major film release. In the course of writing this article, the film shot all the way up to #19 on iTunes’ Top Movies chart. This doesn’t change the fact that “Coffee Town” is easily one of the worst coffee-themed films ever, behind perhaps only Jennifer Love Hewitt’s 2011 disaster, “Cafe“.
Someday someone will make a coffee movie that doesn’t suck, but “Coffee Town” isn’t it.
Eric J. Grimm (@EricJGrimm) is Sprudge.com’s pop culture writer, and a working barista at Everyman Espresso in New York City. Read more of his Grimm Realities in our archives.