Vanessa McDonnell’s John’s of 12th Street, a warm, affectionate sketch of the eponymous East Village restaurant, is the kind of insistently low-key documentary in which a mild argument between co-owner Nick Sitnycky and a handyman over where to get a stopper for the front door constitutes a relatively heated moment. A mere hour long, the movie could stand to be more discerning with its material: Where some of the staff’s spontaneous asides are engaging (one terrific scene has two off-screen cooks conversing in Spanish about charter schools, the camera fixed on their busy hands), others (like one patron’s Madonna story) are arguably long-winded to a fault.
Nevertheless, McDonnell’s commitment to capturing the day-to-day routine — the opening shot is of a clock and a calendar — is mostly contagious. (This is McDonnell’s first feature doc; she’s also a programmer at Williamsburg’s cozy Spectacle and a contributing editor at Screen Slate, that invaluable website that catalogs daily repertory screenings.) The dialed-down stakes allow for involving process-oriented beats (rolling meatballs, slicing chicken, filling salt containers) as well as for offhand conversation typical of any collaborative workplace.
Sun., Nov. 16, 10 p.m., 2014