Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Robert Downey Jr
Written by: Jon Favreau
Running Time: 115 mins
Release date: 25th June 2014
Long before he made the transition to big budget Hollywood director, Jon Favreau was known for low to modest independent films like the cult classic, Swingers and the underrated Made. Now, after being in control of two Iron Man movies, he returns to his roots with a good-natured, feel-good comedy that’s deliciously heart-warming.
Carl Casper is a highly respected chef preparing to impress online blogger and critic, Ramsey Michel. Coming up with an impressive menu, he is forced to deliver uninspired food by his boss, restaurant owner, Riva, which leads to a savaging by the critic and Casper losing his job. Desperate to make food that speaks about his personality, he gets a food truck and starts creating mouth-watering food that wins the public over while bringing his estranged family back together.
There is nothing new or that particularly exciting about the plot but what Favreau manages to do is create characters that are instantly believable and allows them to develop and grow throughout the movie. It’s a film that is more than just a simple comedy; it has many layers. There’s the family story, in which Carl needs to form a bond with his son, Percy, a young boy who he has always put second place to his cooking and career. There’s his relationship with his former wife, Inez, who has become an important business woman and while they are still friends, there’s something else bubbling under.
He also has plenty to say about the power of social networking. The movie points out that no matter what you do in the world, it will be spread across the internet and can make or break a career. A simple outburst manages to destroy Carl’s career and yet at the same time, Twitter and Facebook manages to save it. The film does play out like an extended advert to the 144 character birdy network, including an animated bird twittering off into the ether every time it is used.
The film, while being slight, has plenty to delight. The food is incredible. A piece of advice: eat before you see it as you will find yourself drooling over the culinary delights on display. It is, like one critic has quoted as saying, food porn. Never has plates of food look so delicious, you can almost taste them. It boasts a terrific soundtrack, mixing classic soul with Cuban rhythms, that if the food don’t get to you, the music will.
The cast is a dream. Favreau, taking on the lead, is massively convincing as a chef, showing some very impressive knife skills as well as being incredibly likeable, even when he is on the verge of nastiness, you know that he will turn things around (it’s that kind of movie). It’s always nice to see the largely underrated John Leguizamo playing it for laughs and given enough room to use his improvisational skills and here he is on cracking form, reminding us that those that can, are great, those that can’t, end up in Bad Neighbours.
Young Emjay Anthony as Percy, plays it just right, being neither obnoxious or bratty while Sofia Vergara, from Modern Family, is surprisingly adorable as his ex-wife. There are nice cameos from Favreau’s former work buddies, Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson.
Chef is never going to win any major awards for originality or for strength of screenplay and direction. In places, some of the scenes play out far too long and they do affect the pace but this is really picking hairs because Chef is a delight from start to finish, an often funny, always sweet character driven story about bonding and how the internet and all its components have taken over our lives. If you are looking for some light relief from all the football around at the moment, this is the perfect tonic. Just don’t forget to eat before.