‘Chef’ Review

Published 3 months ago by , Updated August 11th, 2014 at 7:59 am,

chef jon favreau review Chef Review

In Chef, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a master chef working at a high-end Los Angeles restaurant. However, his workaholic habits – coupled with professional dissatisfaction at having to make nothing but popular, yet generic, dishes for his customers – have resulted in Carl getting divorced from his wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara), being neglectful of his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), and often butting heads with his bottom-line driven boss, Riva (Dustin Hoffman). When a popular food critic (Oliver Platt) gives Carl’s most recent work an unflattering review, it taps into the latter’s neuroses; one thing leads to another, and soon enough, Casper finds himself without a job and his reputation shattered.

At Inez’ behest, the unemployed Carl accompanies his ex and Percy on a trip to Miami – Carl and Inez’ hometown. There, with assistance from Inez, Carl gets fixed up with his own food truck, which he decides to drive across the country back to California, while selling Cuban sandwiches along the way. With help from his friend and former co-worker, Martin (John Leguizamo), as well as Percy – whose knowledge of social media promotion comes in handy – Carl starts to get his groove back, in both his career and personal life.

chef jon favreau john leguizamo Chef Review

Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo in ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau started off his filmmaking career with such cult indie titles as Swingers and Made, before he progressed onto making such popular mainstream offerings as Elf and Iron Man. However, he thereafter seemed to hit a wall (creatively-speaking), on the heavily studio-controlled genre blockbusters, Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens – meaning, there are obvious parallels between Carl’s story in Chef and Favreau’s own experience, working in Hollywood. Chef, which Favreau also wrote and directed, feels like a breath of fresh air in that sense, pulling double-duty as a charming and heartfelt tale about recovering one’s thirst for living, as well as an insightful – if myopic – meta-commentary on the modern experience of being a professional artist.

From a directorial perspective, Chef is easily Favreau’s most accomplished work since Iron Man. Food porn enthusiasts – and I use that term in the best way possible – in particular will appreciate the care and visual precision with which Favreau and director of photography Kramer Morgenthau (Thor: The Dark World) capture various footage of ingredients being prepared and assembled into edible concoctions – by and large creating a seamless impression that Favreau as Carl is, in fact, a master chef. (Note: You ought to stay for the film’s credits, for a fun behind the scenes look at Favreau being taught the art of cooking by real-life chef, Roy Choi.) Some of the other stylistic flourishes utilized by Favreau – travel montages, graphics/sound effects that show people Tweeting – aren’t as effective, though even those elements have something of a distinct flavor to them. (No pun intended.)

chef trailer jon favreau Chef Review

EmJay Anthony and Jon Favreau in ‘Chef’

The Chef script by Favreau has a loose, but still defined, three-act plot structure, which allows the film to trot along at a pleasant pace, and also gives the cast a good deal of room for improvisation – with Robert Leighton (Now You See Me) proving to be mostly successful at cutting together the footage into a recognizable narrative. Favreau, the storyteller, isn’t oblivious to the realities of what it takes to start a business, nor what is required to effectively promote your work through online marketing, thought the Chef script definitely paints a best case scenario of both issues. The final result is that Chef winds up being fairly predictable with its trajectory – which isn’t at all a deal-breaker, since the real joy comes from the journey, not the final destination.

Favreau, as the film’s lead, helps in that respect. By casting himself as Carl, Favreau not only heightens the meta nature of Chef, but also make its protagonist an engaging presence – whose personality varies from charismatic artist with a rock-star mentality, to an insecure fellow just struggling to navigate his way in the modern world. Equally affable and pleasant is EmJay Anthony as Carl’s son, as are character actors John Leguizamo (Kick-Ass 2) and Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine) as Carl’s peers. Similarly, Favreau lets Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt play more than the standard caricatures; instead of being greedy and/or resentful people, their characters are portrayed as simply being very passionate about, respectively, pleasing the masses to make money and holding art (here, the art of food) to a high standard. (There’s also a familiar Favreau collaborator, who makes an entertaining one-scene appearance.)

chef favreau anthony vergara Chef Review

Jon Favreau, EmJay Anthony and Sofia Vergara in ‘Chef’

The female characters in Chef, by comparison, are more of a mixed bag. Both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson – playing his supportive ex-wife Inez and co-worker/friend with benefits, Molly – are certainly likable, though they aren’t given much to do besides cheer Carl on and marvel at his cooking skills. To be fair, though, had their relationships with Carl been allowed more onscreen development (and, thus, gained a bit more depth), this might not even be a problem. Beyond that, Chef is mostly a boys adventure, though a certain fan-favorite actress/author makes a funny cameo appearance, at one point.

At the end of the day, though, Chef is successful in fulfilling its ambitions – offering a pleasant cinematic road trip, which also works as a palate cleanser for Favreau the filmmaker. It’s not just an indie comedy that’s worth checking out in theaters, but also one that leaves you interested in seeing what the star/writer/director responsible does next – now that he’s got his creative mojo back.

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Chef runs 115 minutes long and is Rated R for language, including some suggestive references. Now playing in the U.S. in a limited theatrical release.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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TAGS: Chef

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  1. He still holds the honor of Director of the best Marvel Studios movie IMO.

  2. Thanks for the review Sandy!!

    This must’ve really cleansed your palate (pun intended) after “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return”

    I love the parallel with the movie’s plot and Jon Favreau’s trajectory as a director over the past few years.

  3. It reminded me of Walter Mitty in that there were many scenes that could have been overplayed yet were portrayed with graceful restraint.

    A very nice experience.

  4. I hope Faverau gets his directing mojo back on track. Side note: Very unrealistic premise. His food truck would have been ticketed and/or impounded by any number of local jurisdictions for operating a restaurant/food truck without proper permits.

    • he uses permits.

  5. Looks like I found something worth watching today. :)
    Thanks for the article.

  6. What about [REDACTED]? Wasn´t he in this movie?

    • He is, but it’s presented as something of a surprise cameo, so I didn’t want to mention it explicitly in my review.

      I added a line about that – chances are, people will guess who I’m talking about, but still… ;-)

      • Might not even have to guess since he’s been actively promoting his appearance in the film for months but still.

      • Thanks for the reply Sandy! Since I haven´t seen the film, I didn´t catch the line, I tought he would have a more important role in the movie that´s why I mentioned him by name. Still planing os seeing it.

    • Who are we speaking about here Vince Vaughn as the cameo? or Robert Downey, Jr.? Downey was the first one to be cast in the film..

      I’m confused.

  7. Excited to see this one. As a chef myself, I was amazed watching the trailer at just how accurate the dialogue seemed to real life. The conversations they presented sounded exactly like conversations I’ve had in real kitchens. If the rest of the movie has that kind of authentic feel, I’m in.

  8. Saw it opening night and enjoyed the hell out of it. But the language; I haven’t heard the F word so many times in one scene since Slapshot. Loved the movie anyway; very entertaining.

  9. For Starter: A platter of bruschetta

    Chef strolls in like an episode of Masterchef. Displaying a feast of culinary specials and delicatessen that makes your mouth water. Head Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favareau) along with his sous chef Tony (Bobby Cannavale) and next in line, Martin (John Leguizamo) have a success of dishing up the best food in town. Like a plate of food porn it dishes up the best of fine dining and friendly chemistry between the kitchen staff. Unfortunately, this is all at the cost of being an abandoned husband to Inez (Sofia Vergara) and father to son Percy (Emjay Anthony).
    A great ensemble all lovable with passion for the kitchen and foundations to be built upon. However, an hour in and no further development in either plot nor character sees the crew feel like a drag and with the main meal still to come, the warm up begins to become more of a filler than it needs to be. An extensive cameo from starlet Scarlett Johansson adds little to the plot in addition some of the shopping/cooking scenes could have been omitted to deleted scenes on a DVD package, while the set-up is brilliant, it takes far too long and there’s far too much here to digest for the real story to begin. We realised he was a cook and bad father in the first 15 minutes.

    For Main: Pan Fried Steak with a side of sweet potato fries and honey jus

    Finally, when Casper loses his job after abusing a food critic over Twitter, the real film begins. A road trip movie which sees Carl, Martin and Percy take the love of food and build their bond. Rich in bromance and the relationship between Carl and Percy gets stronger throughout the journey and realising his sons strengths in the growing world of social media (leading to a hilarious exchange of teaching Carl to use Twitter) by the closing chapter, the fun and passion for food and family will make you want to ditch the popcorn for something rich in flavour.
    Supported with a side of a soulful soundtrack and the sights and sounds from Miami to New Orleans, this truly is the feel good hit of the summer. Those expecting Iron Man 2.5 can walk away now, sharing cameos (which are unneeded) with a comedic written script, ‘Chef’ is a blast that can forgive its lengthy beginning in return for a tasty dish best served to an audience in need of a smile.

    For Dessert: Popping Candy Ice Cream with Lemon Tart

    Closing out with a brief fast forward of the after effects feels rushed and frankly unrequired as the journey tells a thousand words but one thing Favareau has achieved with ‘Chef’ is a lovable trio on an adventure that stretches neither budget nor fiction (well, perhaps from being unemployed and paying thousands on a kitchen). Overall, this has the ingredients for a superb dish but some portions could have been smaller than others and inside is a raw tale of companionship and passion all with a gooey centre that serves a great slice of summer.

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