Friday, May 22, 2015

Chef Review

Jon Favreau initially started as an indie film favorite actor and director. He moved on to bigger and better things, but recently came back to doing independent films. His most recent endeavor was Chef (2014). This was a lot of fun on its own, but if you know what to look for, you can view it as a tongue-in-cheek autobiography of sorts. That aspect aside, Chef is a good solid film that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is an acclaimed chef with a family life that seems as decaying as his artistic freedom. Those frustrations boil over into a raucous viral-videoed public confrontation against a restaurant critic (Oliver Platt) who panned his cooking of food that his boss (Dustin Hoffman) ordered him to make against his instincts. Now with his career ruined, Carl's ex-wife, Inez (Sofía Vergara) offers an unorthodox solution in Miami: refit an old food truck to offer quality cooking on his own terms. Now with his young son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and old colleague, Martin (John Leguizamo), helping, Carl takes a working trip across America with that truck to rediscover his gastronomic passion. With Percy's social media tech savvy and Martin's enthusiasm, Carl finds that he is creating a traveling sensation on the way home. In doing so, Carl discovers he is serving up more than simply food, but also a deeper connection with his life and his family that is truly delicious in its own way.
We have Jon Favreau to thank for getting the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolling. He directed the first two Iron Man movies. If that first Iron Man movie hadn't as amazing as it was, there wouldn't have been additional Marvel movies and we never would have got to The Avengers and other fantastic films. As I'd suggested in my Age of Ultron review, Marvel seems to be constraining and limiting its directors. In the case of Favreau, he was flat out replaced as the director for the third Iron Man movie. I don't know if that was specifically why he didn't direct the third movie, but I'm inclined to think so. It was an influence, at least.
At any rate, Favreau got a big thing going but stopped to return to indie films where he would have more flexibility and creativity with less influence from studio executives controlling his creative process. This was similar to Carl stepping down from a nice restaurant to work in a food truck. Favreau said he also worked comparisons to Carl and himself, such as being a father while having a busy career and coming from a broken home. I get the impression that Chef was a kind of therapeutic means of self expression for Favreau; and I wish more celebrity therapy would result in excellent films like this.
The cast was fantastic in this movie. You can tell that Favreau, himself, threw his whole heart into the role and into the production. Leguizamo was a lot of fun as well, playing an optimist who was both laid back and a hard worker at the same time. This is the first time I've seen child actor Emjay Anthony on screen. His is quite talented for a kid actor; only once or twice did his acting falter, but only by a little bit. Some of Favreau's other actor friends were involved in small roles. For example, this was the second time Favreau, Robert Downy, Jr. and Scarlet Johansson all worked together on a project directed by Favreau. The cast was simply outstanding, and created some highly relatable and likable characters.
The food in Chef was just as important as the characters themselves. And it was positively gorgeous to look at. Watching things simmer, melt, sear, roast, and cook was delightful. Then seeing the succulent meats sliced, and exceedingly fancy dishes prepared was titillating. The food photography was every bit as tantalizing and fascinating as it was in The Hundred-Foot Journey and Julie & Julia. You will probably be famished by the time you're done watching this movie. Even if you aren't intrigued by the main plot, you won't be able to take your eyes away from the amazing food on the screen.
Chef is rated R for language. There are very few characters who don't work in the kitchen at one point or another during the movie. And having worked in a kitchen myself, I know how stressful, frantic, and fast-paced everything often is. Profanity abounds as part of the job. Having said that, the profanity seems perfectly at home in the scenes where it is used. Currently, a PG-13 movie can get away with no more than two F-bombs. Truly the only reason Chef has an R rating is because there are more than two F-bombs. I think it's reasonably applied to the situations and characters, so I don't view it as being bad. It's just maybe not something you would want to play in the presence of impressionable children.
Whatever you do, don't go see Chef on an empty stomach. It's a feel-good foodie film that will have you salivating within minutes. Whether it is an artistic statement or self-justification of film craft, Chef confirms the core talent of Jon Favreau. It's comfort-food-meets-comfort-movie. Favreau wrote, directed, and starred in this excellent film on a smaller scale than his previous films, but this is by no means a film of a poorer quality. The story is a modern telling of a familiar feel-good formula, but it's an excellent example of that formula. As of writing this, it is available to watch streaming on Netflix and I highly recommend seeing it, just not on an empty stomach. I liked Chef well enough to want a copy on my movie shelves.

Can you think of another simi-autobiographical movie like Chef where the movie makes indirect comparison to its writer/director? Comment below and tell me about it!

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