Filmmaker Matt Mahurin's lo-fi portrait of New York City restaurant Shopsins was one of the best documentaries of 2003 that no one heard about.
The Greenwich Village institution is legendary for its eccentric, 900-plus-item menu and, more importantly, for its proprietors. Culinary magician Kenny Shopsin is a true New York character, cranking out dishes from a fly-ridden, Rube Goldberg-rigged micro kitchen, while his family mans the ephemera-loaded restaurant with a genuine, unpretentious and at times near-confrontational verve. When not cooking, the foul-mouthed, moody and often very funny Shopsin holds court over the regulars, waxing philosophic on all range of subjects. It's a familiar and comfortable place, traits held firm by a series of rules to weed out the unwanted: no parties larger than four, everyone must eat, no cell phones, etc. Those who break the rules or get on Kenny's bad side are out the door. As Shopsin himself puts it, "They have to prove it to me that they're OK to feed." Mahurin began filming the clan in 2002 and the years provide energetic, quirky footage of the joys and strains of life in the restaurant biz. They also hold major changes, including Shopsins move from its home of 32 years due to rent increases (they have since relocated again) and a tragedy that shakes the family foundation. Despite the turmoil, the Shopsins' love and stubborn tenacity move them forward, keeping both restaurant and customers and family together. Grade: A