Chef is a film about a battle we all face to reconnect with our passions when the flame has burned out. Jon Favreau, a jack-of-all-trades in Hollywood who has hidden behind his passions for the last decade or so, has stuck to his guns on this one and delivered an indie film that not only delivers a tasty slice of one’s person’s struggle to keep their passion alive, but also shows the consequences when one follows their passion too closely. Carl Casper (Favreau) is a phenomenal chef but a lousy father to his son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Carl tries hard to entertain his son with artificial activities that he thinks would allow them to bond by taking him on roller coasters, to town fairs and the beach, while failing to realize that all Percy wants to do is just hang out with his dad. In an early scene, Carl and Percy connect over a homemade grilled cheese sandwich, discussing twitter, social media and the effects of the Internet on youth and an older generation of users. Percy smiles and the art of subtly is established. Chef could then best be described as the perfect grilled cheese sandwich; familiar and fattening, yet, when cooked right, its gooey, cheesy deliciousness and soft center always finds a place in your heart. Chef may be cheesy and formulaic at times, but at its core it’s just plain comfort food that is perfect for the soul. Simply put, Chef is mm-mmm satisfying filmmaking in the shape of a surprisingly delicious film.
It’s not hard to see the comparison Favreau is making between his career in Hollywood and his love for independent filmmaking. There is no denying that Favreau is a modern-day pioneer when it comes to directors and writers with humble beginnings. Favreau, who started off his career scripting Swingers as well as writing/directing/producing his 2001 smash Made, has set a trend for Hollywood studios who snatch up promising young directors to spearhead big-budget blockbuster film franchises. After all, Favreau was the first director for Marvel to successfully launch the Marvel universe on the big screen and reignited good friend Robert Downey Jr.’s career after his stint in rehab. Favreau is undoubtedly a man of wonders and shows off his skills here behind the burner.
With Chef, it is not hard to see that Favreau is a lover, not a fighter; a lover of culture; of beautiful women; of fine filmmaking and most of all, a lover of good food. Through Chef, Favreau serves up his signature dish: real-world comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat what real-relationships actually look like.
Carl Casper is surely a representation of everything Favreau has been feeling for a very long time. Lost and unhappy behind the scenes of a posh Venice Californian restaurant owned by the business oriented Riva (Dustin Hoffman), Carl is given a little hint of hope when he gets wind that the critic who helped launch his career from culinary obscurity in Miami is coming back to review him. Last time Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) and he met, Ramsey was a small time food critic, doing it for the love of food. This time, Ramsey, backed by AOL and nearly ten million followers, challenges Carl to cook something special. As he gets his kitchen staff ready, namely his sous-chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale), his line chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and his hostess and gorgeous Sommelier Molly (Scarlett Johansson), Carl begins to prepare a menu that will knock Ramsey’s socks off. Despite his best efforts, the restaurant’s owner Riva thwarts Carl’s plans, forcing him to prepare the same, tired menu that he’s been doing for a decade. As tempers flare and egos parade, the events of Ramsey’s return find Carl without a job, forcing him to seek refuge in his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and her eccentric ex-boyfriend Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.). On a surprise trip back to Miami, Carl allows the spice and sizzle of the Latin culture to take hold, and while enjoying a simple Cubano sandwich [basically a ham and cheese sandwich], Carl finds inspiration in owning a food truck.
It’s no surprise that Favreau, who has made excellent relations with A-list actors during his time in the big leagues, likes to surround himself with the best. Chef may not look like your typical independent film feature courtesy of the generic polished coating and a star-studded cast that would make the night sky jealous, but the film uses its high-profile cast to its advantage. From Dustin Hoffman, who plays a the perfect, grumpy restaurateur, to Scarlett Johansson, who captivates with subtle sounds during a seductively sexy food foreplay scene, to the mega superstar Robert Downey Jr., who in only mere minutes, finds a way to convince audiences that he is able to create a more outrageous character than Tony Stark, the film showcases the organic talent of a cast who have spent a little too much time in the bright Hollywood spotlight. Although the film is cluttered with talent, the true stars remain the three characters we stay the longest with; Favreau as Carl, his son Percy, and the always underrated John Leguizamo as Martin, Carl’s trusty sidekick and best friend. Leguizamo delivers laughs and moments of true representation of a Hispanic culture in a predominantly Latino-centric United States of America. Leguizamo is nothing short of tasty comedic genius.
Like any good dish, you need a pairing that does your taste buds justice. Luckily for audiences, Favreau paid as much attention to the off-screen project as he did to it on-screen. Not to downplay the succulent images Favreau cooks up on-screen, Chef will be a film that will surely make you question your summer diets. But Chef’s soundtrack is just as important as Favreau’s characters, story and food porn. The music adds to Favreau’s intent of expressing a caliente Hispanic culture; one full of life, vigor and salsa. Favreau is surely in love with the Latin cultural palette, including its music and cuisine, glamorizing a culture that could easily fall into other sad, dramatic avenues. Instead, Favreau showcases the music and sounds of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico as well as its menu and allows the food and music to begin a passionate love affair, with smiles and satisfactory results.
The film isn’t perfect, but then again, what is? Especially during this time of the year.
Big kudos need to be given to Favreau, who stuck with his passion project. Rejecting countless other big Hollywood films to put together this small little movie about a man finding the happiest version of himself, Favreau sets a delicious fire of delight in each and every audience member’s stomach and hearts. Part road movie, part coming of age story and full-on heart-warmer, Chef is a savroso and tasty serving of organic and passionate filmmaking that will leave you dancing your way out of theaters with a big smile smacked across your salivating lips. It is some of the most fun you will have at the movies this year.
Serving up magic in the kitchen is similar to cooking up something special on-screen. Like anything worth trying, the right ingredients make or break the end result of anything that requires a sense of artistry, culinary or cinematic. Luckily for us, even after more than a decade in the large, food-chain like conglomerate that is Hollywood, Jon Favreau has been able to break bad habits, ripping off the fast-food apron and delivering one of the most devilishly entertaining films of the year. An organic and tasty departure from Favreau’s saturated blockbusters that will leave you wanting more, Chef is one hot tamale return to form for Favreau who sprinkles a dash of wit into his dialogue, a pinch of charm in his direction and a whole spoonful of energy as chef Carl Casper. No matter what’s cooking, Chef is the most scrumptious little summer surprise of the season, and a film that you won’t turn down a second helping of.
Night Film Reviews: 9.5 Stars Out of 10.
Is Chef one of the best films of the year? Does Favreau fare better delivering big blockbuster popcorn flicks or has he not lost his indie touch? What was your favourite scene/part in Chef? Leave your food for thoughts below. Comment, stir the pot and cook up all your feelings on Favreau’s newest.