Caution: Food truck- related spoilers ahead.
There comes a moment in nearly every recent romantic comedy when the male lead, having hit his emotional low-point, musters the gumption to chase his dreams. For Joseph Gordon Levitt in (500) Days of Summer, this means quitting his workaday job at a greeting card company to dedicate himself to architecture. For Jason Segel’s Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it means finally producing a vampire puppet musical.
Increasingly, though, Hollywood’s leading men are firing up their electric generators and starting a food truck. In last weekend’s number one movie, Think Like a Man, Michael Eely’s Dominic saves himself from a crushing breakup and wins back the girl of his dreams by starting his own food truck. In The Five-Year Engagement, which is widely expected to take over the top spot at the box office this week, Jason Segel’s Tom Solomon climbs his way out of the dumps by buying an ambulance and turning it into a paramedic-themed taco truck. Meanwhile, in the current season of the ABC series Happy Endings, Zachary Knighton’s Dave is recovering from being left at the altar by running a food truck of his own, called Steak Me Home Tonight. That last fictional food truck even has its own website.
How did vehicular dining become the solution to male rom-com heartbreak? The answer probably starts with the Los Angeles gourmet food truck boom of 2009 and 2010. As with the recent resurgence of Asian fusion, food trucks seem to have caught Hollywood screenwriters’ fancy the old-fashioned way, by pulling up at their doorstep.
Still, to get its big Hollywood break, the food truck had to represent more than just a tasty mobile meal. Happily, the symbolism of the food truck comes standard. First, it sits atop four wheels and often runs on a staff of one, making it a much better symbol of self-sufficiency and mobility than a restaurant. Second, there’s the added machismo: It’s a “truck,” not a kitchen. (In The Five-Year Engagement and Think Like a Man, characters explicitly abandon restaurant kitchens for the mobility of the food truck.) Even the cuisine tends to have a masculine edge: Rather than baking cupcakes like Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids, Happy Endings’ Dave grills steaks, Think Like a Man’s Dominic serves up pork, and Engagement’s Tom makes tacos. The food truck becomes the contemporary masculine ideal: He’s comfortable enough with himself to cook, and he does it like a man.
And in the last few years the food truck has gotten classed up, becoming trendy—and even glamorous—enough for the kind of upper-middle-class folks that typically lead Hollywood’s romantic comedies. In the past, food trucks represented something humbler: Recall The Station Agent (2003), in which the Cuban-American Joe Oramas—played by the great Bobby Cannavale—runs a (more or less never visited) snack truck for his ailing father. Or Machete’s Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), an underground Mexican immigration activist who spends her days running a taco truck.
Food trucks have been around nearly as long as trucks themselves, but it’s only more recently that they’ve gone from a symbol for living on the margins of society to a vehicle for yuppie-rebel reinvention. Expect some wistful food truck montages in our rom-com future.