Posted May 23, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
Lighthearted, warm, and humorous. Don’t see it on an empty stomach, but by all means, see it.
Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a tattoo of a chef’s knife on his forearm. The man lives and breathes to cook good food. A big day is ahead of him when Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a highly respected food critic, is going to visit his restaurant.
Except it’s not really Carl’s restaurant. The owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), wants Carl to cook the same menu he’s been cooking for the last five years. Everyone loves it, so why take a chance now? Carl complies, but when Ramsey writes a scathing review that gets re-Tweeted thousands of times, Carl fires back with, “You wouldn’t know a good meal if it sat on your face.”
After a video of a face-to-face confrontation with Ramsey goes viral, and unable to cook what he wants, Carl quits. Unemployed and unsure what to do with himself, his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara) asks Carl to travel to Miami with her and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony).
There, Carl gets a taste of Cuban food, and finds new purpose in life when he decides to run a food truck, just like he did when he first started out as a cook.
The heart of the movie, though, is the story of a father bonding with his son. Carl takes Percy to the movies, and gives him cursory attention, but what Percy wants and needs is someone to learn from and look up to. Carl reluctantly takes Percy with him on his road trip across America, where crowds of eager eaters line up for Carl’s Cuban sandwiches. By taking Percy into the world of cooking, Carl lets his son into his life, into his heart, where his son wants to be.
Emjay Anthony proves to be a promising child actor. There’s a moment where Carl gives Percy his own chef’s knife, and instructs him in its importance and his responsibilities for it. There’s no need for dialog; the look in Anthony’s big, open eyes says it all.
Chef is obviously a very personal film for Favreau, who also wrote and directed the film. After starting out with his own independent films, Favreau worked on a few studio films, such as the first two Iron Man movies, the sequel of which received mixed critical reviews. The movie is a metaphor for his life as a filmmaker, and a statement about films in general.
Studios want to control their own products, much like how Riva wants to decide what’s on the menu on his restaurant—after all, it’s his money. The food truck is independent cinema; it’s smaller, but it’s Carl’s and he can do whatever he wants with it within the limits of his budget. Whether Ramsey stands in for film critics in general, or for one in particular, is hard to say. To Favreau’s credit, however, he’s mature enough to understand a critic’s point of view.
Chef is a about whether food (or film) can be crowd-pleasing, while at the same time allow its creator creativity. In the case of Chef, yes it can. It’s lighthearted, warm, and humorous. The pacing is casual but purposeful, and the movie looks good enough to eat. Just watching it makes you hungry. Don’t see it on an empty stomach, but by all means, see it.