Directed by Jon Favreau
Written by Jon Favreau
Stars: Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo
Genre: Feel-good drama
Released: 30 May 2014
Running time: 1h 54min
No spoilers to be found here!
After big movies like Iron Man 1&2 and Cowboys & Aliens, Jon Favreau changes gear and makes Chef, a smaller, more personal film from the director. It looks great, sounds great, has great acting and is overall a very fun time. But the film also showcases Favreau’s love for film making, something that translates beautifully onto the screen. Chef is also a clichéd and sometimes unrealistically happy feel-good movie. It might not be original or entirely grounded, but Chef is still a love letter to both cooking and film making and is well worth your time.
Carl Casper (played by Jon Favreau) is a chef at a prestigious restaurant in California. While being great at his job and popular in the kitchen, the owner refuses to put new dishes on the menu and wants to stick with the classics. A famous food critic writes about the uninspired food, really getting under Carl’s skin. Due to some uncontrolled rage and improper use of social media, Carl quits his job with no new future prospects. He then gets the advice of starting a food truck with his friends and family.
If you read the synopsis above you may be able to guess how the story will continue. Chef from a narrative standpoint is a pretty standard. It takes a familiar set-up, mixes it up with a food and cooking-theme and then goes through all the classic plot points. Early on in the movie you will have guessed how it will end and you will probably be right. Chef might not win points for creativity, but it takes home the cake due to great execution. Like Carl with cooking, everything in this movie is made with passion. It is low budget and it does not have the greatest technology, but the amount of love Jon Favreau has for film making shines through this entire picture. Similar to my thoughts on The Martian, the concept has been done before and the movie does nothing to change it up, but it does it so well that you forgive it. I knew how the characters would develop and how the story would turn out and that was exactly what I got. But since these characters are so well realized and you get so invested in their situation, knowing how the movie will end does not take away a lot from the experience. When the story did end exactly as I thought I wasn’t disappointed, this is what I wanted for these characters and it was really great seeing that.
Carl Casper is our main character in Chef, a passionate cook with a big heart. In the start of our story, he has an estranged relationship with his son and problems at work, things that are continually worsening. As you can tell, a pretty clichéd character and continues to be throughout the film. But director Jon Favreau does a great job at portraying this character, he is so likable and you care a lot about him and his problems. Carl is probably a reflection of Favreau himself and therefor he had an easy time to slip into the character and did a great job.
Carl’s son Percy (played by Emjay Anthony) lives with his mother and spends only a limited amount of time with his absent father. You have also seen this type of character before, he and his relationship with his father develops in the way you think it will. But Emjay turns in such a great performance as Carl’s son that you aren’t bothered by this. He and Favreau have great chemistry and you really hope that their relationship will improve.
Chef has a huge cast with to many people to mention, some only having a single scene and other with bigger roles. Everybody does a great job, especially John Leguizamo as Carl’s best friend and second-in-command in the kitchen.
This is a movie about cooking and the love of food, so of course you will have some great gastronomic imagery. Chef features a lot of food montages, shots of people cooking various dishes with fitting and energetic salsa music accompanying it. You could get tired of seeing this over and over, but they always cook something new with fresh music and the feeling of passion for food translates really well during these sequences. I think they add a lot to the movie and I get really hungry watching them, a great sign for a food movie.
While the story and characters aren’t the most original, if you look at the narrative as more of a metaphor for Jon Favreau’s career as a film maker and film making in general, there is a lot of interesting things to find. Favreau probably wrote this story influenced by what had happened lately with him as a director and the further you dig into it the more interesting it gets, similar to Birdman. With the success with his new movie, The Jungle Book, everything comes together really nicely.
It is hard to find faults with this movie, as most aspects are made with care and passion for the craft. My biggest issue with the movie is that it is pretty clichéd and the characters are unoriginal. You can easily predict what will happen and how it will end.
Another thing that irritated me is how happy the movie gets about mid-way through and continues to be throughout to the end. I get that this is a feel-good movie, but I do think Chef became harder to accept as a drama as the characters simply didn’t have any set backs what so ever. When I saw the ending I raised my eyebrows somewhat, a bit to unrealistic for me. But you always believe this story, it simply is a bit harder to few to times towards the end.
At it’s core, Chef is a clichéd movie. The story starts out familiar and concludes in exactly the way you expect it to. You have seen most of these characters before and they develop in the most expected of ways. Such issues usually bug me, but not with Chef. Director, writer and main actor Jon Favreau delivers a very personal and simple movie, were his clear passion for film making shines through. I knew how everything was going to turn out, but I didn’t care, I liked these characters so much that I wanted it to turn out the way it did. The movie does have some other issues, and that is mainly the almost ridiculous levels of happiness it start to provide about halfway through, it almost became to much. You always buy the story and characters, but during some sections of the movie I was taken out a bit by it. None of these issues are disastrous for the film, but it is still noticeable and Chef looses some much needed credibility there. But the good surely outweighs the bad and Chef is still a pretty good movie. You might have seen the story before, but this is a film that delivers solely on its execution and that is ample enough to consider Chef a movie worthwhile watching and surely enjoy.
Cover image source: newcinema.es