WARNING! DO NOT SEE THIS FILM HUNGRY!
In the midst of the summer blockbuster season, Chef is the perfect little refuge from the 3D action extravaganzas. Jon Favreau brings us this sweet, charming comedy about a man and his family, and how good food and Twitter brought them together. It is a simple story that keeps clear of many traditional clichés inherent with personal rebuilding stories, and in doing so is a very fun little film filled with brilliant moments and great characters.
Chef begins with Chef Carl Casper’s (Favreau) restaurant receiving a scathing review by the top LA food critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) due to restaurateur Riva’s (Dustin Hoffman) lack of creativity. With the review horribly slating the food and Carl’s personally, the chef takes to Twitter – though he is a new user – and invites Michel back after starting a Twitter war. Riva fires Carl before service, however, and the restaurant goes lower in Michel’s opinion. Inspired by his ex-wife’s Cuban heritage, Carl decides to buy a food truck to run with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and his former line chef Martin (John Leguizamo), and thanks to Twitter, Carl gets his food mojo back.
From the very beginning, it’s very hard to not like Chef. It provides a healthy dose of food porn served with an unassuming, not forced, genuinely funny script. The jokes were written into the situations seamlessly, completely allowing us to become enraptured by the story itself and the delicious journey we were being taken on. The progression and structure of the story was really well devised and kept one section from going on longer than was necessary to tell the story. The film was happily split 50/50 between Carl being unhappy working for someone else and being incredibly happy working for himself, and all the character and story elements in between these main pieces fit perfectly.
One of the driving forces of the story is Carl’s recent affiliation and very funny ignorance of Twitter and the world of social networking. As a social commentary, Chef focused not on our recent social dependence upon the Internet and social networks, but the ability of the connected world to make things happen. Chef works the commentary element of its story very well and keeps it as just that, a storytelling element. Though the involvement of the social network isn’t subtle by any means, the usage varies. The biggest use would be a whole scene of Carl or Percy Tweeting, and the smallest would be the use of a bird tweet sound effect and an animated version of Twitter’s logo flying away. Each use was well though out, making Twitter a part of the story without taking it over.
Chef is all about its characters, and they are exactly the types of characters this film needed. They had the correct individual qualities to make the jokes they were involved in work, which make the comedy more organic and genuinely situational. The line chefs were over the top as they tend to be in the high-pressure environment, and who wouldn’t want a brunette Scarlett Johansson as your sommelier? Carl’s family were very well developed, the biggest surprise being his ex-wife Inez (Sophia Vergara) not being portrayed as the typical, hostile ex who only “cares” about her child. His son, Percy, was the perfect balance of needy, neglected, and resigned child of divorce who had to grow up fast, and he is anything but annoying with a great performance from Anthony.
Favreau wrote and developed each of his supporting characters to their full potential, and the performances from his cast made the dialogue flow easily. What we love about Chef is that Favreau didn’t keep characters around longer than they had to, keeping the main players (Carl, Martin, Percy) the center of the story. Johansson, in a more cliché version of this film, could have been the fly in Carl’s butter for the entirety of the film, but Favreau created and developed her to be more of a grown up than that, and she gracefully bowed out of Carl’s life at the appropriate time, giving the story an easier current to follow.
If the secondary characters are the sides, Carl Casper is the star of Chef’s dish. He is such a well developed and performed character, and it is his search for ultimate happiness that keeps the story moving forward and our attentions engaged. Unlike some of the chefs portrayed in films, Carl Casper is one of the first to truly embody the passion all chef’s talk about. When Riva fires him, he goes home and cooks a full five-course menu, and he continuously tells Percy to try new things, and the reality of the restaurant schedule is central to his relationship with his son. Favreau portrays Carl’s passion for food and cooking perfectly, making it not only central to his performance, but to his character as well. He’s a great, realistic film chef.
The only weakness of Chef is Carl’s boss Riva and especially his reaction to the absolutely horrible review of his restaurant’s menu. Any decent restaurateur receiving that bad of a review would have had a serious conversation with his chef about the menu and the improvements they could make. However, Riva is instead a plot device meant to push Carl into the food truck section of the film, and unfortunately, his character is flat and a bit unbelievable. Further along in the film is Robert Downey Jr. in his heavily marketed appearance. Though his performance isn’t bad, RDJ simply plays Tony Stark in the form of Inez’s ex-husband, and again is merely a seemingly clever plot device to move the story forward.
If the summer blockbusters are already getting to be too much (and this month is full of them), Chef is a perfect way to take a break and watch a good, simple, and fun film with great characters and a brilliant sense of humor that will provide continuous laughs and mouthwatering visuals.(4 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Aldamisa Entertainment)