DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
CAST: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)
THE plot of Chef may be telegraphed from a mile off, but the joy that Jon Favreau takes in creating his culinary masterpieces in the movie makes up for a lot.
The actor directs himself and a cast of stellar cameos in a film about reconnecting with family, the vagaries of a technophone dealing with social media, and the nostalgia food creates. It is a gentle foray into what can be a sarcastic and unforgiving world – food blogs and ever-changing menus.
Favreau (pictured) plays chef Carl Casper, stuck in an emotional rut, creating safe food for a restaurant owner who is more militant control freak than gastronome. Carl’s career nosedives spectacularly when he picks an online fight with a food blogger, and soon he finds himself traversing the US in a food truck with his cutely sensible son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and loyal friend Martin (Leguizamo).
His Iron Man friends Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson pop up, as do some interesting character actors like Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt, and there is an unscripted feel to a lot of the dialogue. This makes for surprisingly few verbal clichés, even when you can tell where the story is going. How it gets to the endpoint is more important though, and it gets there powered by the love of eating well.
Be sure to stock up on the popcorn because you will be on a food high through most of the film, ready to run out and create the perfect cheese sandwich the second it is done.
What it may lack in dramatic intensity the film makes up for in the feel-good factor. Even the double-talking ex of Carl’s ex-wife cannot but assist him when he really needs the help, because he is such a good-natured, nice guy.
Setting the food truck up as a fresh start is not exactly an idea out of left field (the truck in Sunshine Cleaning was more that than this truck), nor is creating the space for some father-son bonding.
In comparison to misogynistic blockbuster fare like Transformers 4 or the empty calories of the forthcoming Expendables 3, this seems meaty and substantial.
But putting this on the Cinema Nouveau art circuit is a stretch because compared to fare like The Grand Budapest Hotel this is like the tired menu the food blogger pans in the film.
The blogger calls out Chef Carl for sticking to the tried and tested, when what attracted him to the restaurant in the first place all those years ago was that the chef was trying new things.
Favreau isn’t trying anything new, whether in the story or presentation of the story, so this is comforting feel-good custard, presented as crème brûlée.
Charming in its own way, but not really nouvelle or even novel cuisine.
If you liked Waitress you will like this.