Review of: “Chef”
It seems altogether fitting that a passion project by a director of big budget action movies, is about passion. The passion in this film is about food and family. And the director/writer/producer/actor Jon Favreau shows these passions in strong, beautiful and at times surprisingly subtle ways. This story is also about the growing food truck movement and how social media can have both up and down sides.
Carl (Jon Favreau) is the chef of a popular Los Angeles restaurant and was he once considered “the next big thing”. But with an important critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Plate) scheduled to show up we see that Carl is having a crisis of confidence and creativity. Even though he has a loyal staff, Martin and Tony (John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale), and a supportive hostess Molly (Scarlett Johansson), the restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) is more concerned in filling tables than supporting his chef. In fact, Riva goes back on his original promise to Carl to let him have completed creative control.
Needless to say the review is a disaster. And to make matters worse Carl, as a rank novice with social media, ends up going ballistic for the whole world to see. On top of this Carl is a divorced dad who is drifting away from his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).
I need to pause at this point to note that one of the reasons I was looking forward to this film is that besides film, cooking and food are also a passion of mine. And this film photographs the food and its preparation so beautifully that it borders on being food porn. Be sure to eat before you go to this film or you might be tempted to lick the screen!
So, Carl is in crisis. He has been fired, his son trying to reach out to him and he just wants to cook good food. Most people when they get depressed they may eat too much ice cream, or drink too much. Carl goes home and cooks plate after plate of gorgeous food.
As with all drama, this crisis drives Carl toward change. Will Carl become creative and happy again? Can he reconnect to his son and his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara)? The answers to these questions depends on what happens after getting a food truck in Miami and a road trip in that truck with Martin and his son selling Cuban food as they head back to LA. I will let you discover how the rest of the story goes for yourselves, but I will say that I wished I could have been on that road trip with them.
As the director, Jon Favarau brings us into the story right from the opening sequence. The movie is put together with just the right combination of detail and economy. And his direction has an effortless feel to it. The only exception to this is the ending. Though the ending was enjoyable, I thought it was rather weak and rushed.
Jon Favreau is so good as a director that we sometimes forget that he is also a good actor. As Carl he is completely believable as a top chef. He even developed some awesome knife skills for the movie. He also is able to show Carl’s pain and passion so that we relate to him immediately.
Emjay Anthony as Percy is remarkable young actor. He has already developed a subtly to his acting is a pleasure to watch. Something I wish more adult actors had. Bobby Cannavale and Scarlett Johansson do well in their relatively small roles. Sofia Vergara is also very good as Inez, Carl’s ex wife. It is testament to Favreau as a film maker that he is able to get actors of such caliber for such small roles.
Robert Downey Jr. is perfect in the small but delightful role as the slightly eccentric Marvin (Inez’s other ex- husband). The scene between Marvin and Carl is odd and funny and so well done that I wish there had been more scenes with the two.
Again another pause; as with all films there needs to be a certain level of suspension of disbelief by the audience. In this movie I had no trouble believing in that the actors were their characters. However, I found it hard to belief that there are two healthy men in any world who would be divorced from Sofia Vergara.
Dustin Hoffman was perfect as the restaurant owner Riva. He could have played the conflict with Carl over the top but I thought it was done just right. This can also be said about Oliver Platt as the food critic. Along with Riva he is one of the two protagonists that drive Carl to makes changes. Platt is capable of playing a character over the top to point of being cartoonish (as in Casanova– 2005). I was happy to see that he played the critic more subdued and thus with more believability. John Leguizamo is one of my favorite actors and again he was perfect as Carl’s loyal sous chef Martin.
This movie is in limited release and not a lot of money is being spent on promotion. So, you might have to work a little to find it. But it will be well work the effort.