Nov 25, 2014

Review: Chef (2014)

The food and restaurant industry in general has always been something that's close to me. Both my parents are currently working in it in and I feel a certain attachment to it. I respect the workers in the field a lot because I know how tough it is. Unfortunately, the cooking skills of my parents have never rubbed off on me because I just left the cooking to them instead of trying to learn any trade secrets. Wouldn't you? I'm getting better, but it's safe to say that I'm no Michelin chef.

What's interesting is that the story of Chef is a bit of a reflection on Jon Favreau's own career in the film industry. After doing Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens for some major film studios that set their own parameters for these films, Favreau was looking to get back to basics and be his own boss. This is exactly what his character does in Chef and Favreau has actually said that the story is slightly autobiographical.


Genre: comedy
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Produced by: Sergei Bespalov, Jon Favreau, Karen Gilchrist, etc.
Written by: Jon Favreau
Music by: Lyle Workman
Running time: 114 minutes
Production company: Aldamisa Entertainment, Kilburn Media
Distributed by: Open Road Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Energía Entusiasta, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $45,967,935 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, Sofía Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, Robert Downey Jr., Russell Peters, Chase Grimm, Will Schutze, Gloria Sandoval


Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a head chef working in California. He has a young son named Percy (Emjay Anthony) who he shares with his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara). He's been at the same restaurant for ten years and he's grown tired of cooking the same classic but safe menu items. When it's announced that big time food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is coming to the restaurant, he revamps the menu with creative and fresh dishes. This however leads to a standoff between his boss and the owner of the restaurant Riva (Dustin Hoffman).


In terms of representing the restaurant industry, I think that Jon Favreau paints a pretty authentic picture. It helps when you have real-life chef and food truck owner Roy Choi as co-producer who is partly responsible for the food truck movement in the United States. Whether it's about the restaurant scene or food truck scene, there's nothing that jumps out at me as being untrue or exaggerated.

Jon Favreau put this story to paper in about two weeks and there are parts about it that I like and that I dislike. I like the conflicts that Carl runs into from trying to find time to spend with his son or figure out what to do about his menu for Ramsey Michel's visit. Does he go creative or does he do the same old thing that people have always loved? The problems don't stop for Casper there either, so there's pretty much always something he has to contend with.

The problem is that some of the story elements are very familiar as well as predictable. It's undeniably very feel-good but at times it feels just a little too feel-good. (Spoilers) The 1 Second Everyday montage at the end is for sure the guiltiest of this, as is the fact that this movie ends with the re-marrying of Carl and Inez. (End Spoilers) It was like putting just a little too much icing on a cupcake. Icing's great and all. but you need enough cake to go with it.

Pretty much any scene that has to do with food preparation, we get treated to some real meaty food porn. It's great stuff and it made me want a Cuban sandwich so badly. I'm a sandwich addict, so anything between two pieces of bread looks like heaven to me. Jon Favreau apparently took part in some advanced training to pull off the kinds of things he did in Chef, so it all looks pretty genuine.

The only food prep scene I can think of that didn't work was one that Scarlett Johansson was involved in. There was a bit of a romantic sub-plot between Casper and Johansson's character that was completely unnecessary, but thankfully quickly forgotten. I didn't need shots of delicious pasta being prepared interspersed with a turned on Scarlett Johansson waiting on the sidelines. 

When you look at the cast of Chef, you got to think that Jon Favreau is a well-liked guy in Hollywood. Besides Scarlett Johansson's irrelevant character, everyone is pretty welcome and Favreau himself does a pretty good job. John Leguizamo is good fun but the biggest surprise is probably Emjay Anthony as Carl Casper's son. He's totally not annoying as is always the danger with kids and he does just fine.

There's an obvious effort in Chef to be modern and hip. I'd say that most of it is pulled off pretty well. I'm still not sure myself how texting, social media posting and the like should be represented in film, but I think that this film does a relatively good job at navigating this minefield without pandering. The little CGI blue birds that represent Tweets being sent out were a little too silly though for my taste.

Chef has got to be one of the feel-goodest movies I've ever seen. It maybe forces that a little too much with an unnecessary sing-a-long and some cheesy concluding elements, but I still had a very good time and I laughed quite a few times as well. The food is beautiful to watch and what's interesting is that Chef is almost as much of a music movie as it is a food movie. All I can say is that you have to be trying really hard to not to have a good time with this movie.



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