Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Quick Cut Review: "Chef"

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour 55 minutes  
Release Date: May 9, 2014

2014 was surprisingly free of the so called “Feel good movie of the year”. Well, at least there wasn’t any film labeled as such. Probably the closest we got was with writer/director/star Jon Favreau’s heartfelt love letter to the culinary world, Chef. While at first it may not appear to hold all the qualities we look for in our feel good movies, Chef proves to be the little indie movie that could early on as Favreau expertly establishes (in a short amount of time) the world of the professional chef or as most of us refer to them, the faceless guy (or girl) who makes our food.

The story begins with our introduction to Chef Casper (Jon Favreau), a longtime professional chef who has transplanted himself from Florida (where he found an immense amount of success) to Los Angeles to be closer to his son who lives with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) in a very big mansion. He is now working for a restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) who cares more about filling seats than making a statement with their rather bland menu selections, which becomes a problem when one of the country’s most respected food critics (Oliver Platt) targets Casper’s new venue and finds his food a little bit underwhelming (he also really hates the lava cake). 

This sparks a twitter battle of wits between the two men that eventually leads to Casper’s unemployment and his professional embarrasment. With no one left to turn to Casper enlists the help of his ex-wife who helps him get back up on his feet by acquiring a food truck for him. Soon Casper, with the help of his son and his longtime friend and fellow cook (John Leguiziamo), hit the road to redemption in their brand new foodtruck where Casper not only finds his passion for cooking again but is also given the opportunity to bond with his son for the very first time.
Favreau is a talented filmmaker, but he is easily at his best when the budget is lower than a few hundred million. His biggest hits may well be Iron Man and Iron Man 2, but his best films are still his smaller ventures such as Made, Elf, and Zathura. Chef joins those hallowed ranks by offering up a refreshing little human drama that is as much about a father connecting with his son as it is about a man re-discovering himself again. There is also a lot of underlying messages stuffed in that whenever Favreau (the Chef) feels the need to speak out against his critical attackers it can almost seem like Favreau (the filmmaker) speaking to his critics as well.

Aside from Favreau in the lead role, the film is also stuffed with a lot of great supporting work. Leguizamo hasn't been this likeable in a long time, Vergara has mercifully shed her shrill voice and turned in a surprisingly understated performance, Hoffman is fantastic as Casper’s stubborn boss, newcomer Emjay Anthony is great as Casper’s enterprising son and both Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. (Of whom were likely attracted to the film due to their professional connection with Favreau) add just enough star power to make the film feel a bit higher tier than your average indie flick.
There were a couple of problems though. While the film certainly has a lot of cooking in it and pays tribute to the chefs of the world appropriately, it wasn’t really about the profession of a chef. Also, the misleading marketing for the film would have us believe the film is about a foodtruck chef where that couldn't be further from the truth. Thankfully the film doesn’t veer off the road too much and stays on track most of the time, but what can’t be forgiven is the strangely abrupt ending that literally comes out of nowhere and is almost polarizing at first. With so much time devoted to creating all these characters and their world, it is baffling to think that we get absolutely zero resolution besides an all too brief montage right before the end credits.


Even with a sour ending Chef remains a largely entertaining film with a fantastic cast and a positive message for both fathers and sons as well as anyone who has ever held a job that requires skill and finess that largely goes unnoticed by the general public. Making a film that champions the little guy over big business, Jon Favreau has found his voice again and Chef is the perfect vehicle to get that voice back out there and on the road again.

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