John Favreau // 2014 // 114 mins
In his latest directorial effort Jon Favreau plays the eponymous chef Carl Casper, an ambitious culinary genius who feels restricted in his job at a high-end Los Angeles restaurant. When his employer refuses Carl free reign over the restaurants menu, resulting in a berating review from a prestigious critic, Carl retaliates through an aggressive tweet that goes viral. In the wake of his pubic humiliation Carl decides to spend some down-time with his young son and is introduced to the possibility of starting his own food-truck and bringing his favourite cuban sandwiches to a wider audience.
Chef is an incredibly charming film that strives for a feel-good vibe and captures it excellently. The story is a fairly simple one, which we have seen many times in the past; a man estranged from his son and hoping to reconnect with him in spite of his own personal troubles. The film makes no promises of being any more than a simple story, and it never tries to be, but it works because of the solid screenplay and the performances from Favreau and his young co-star Emjay Anthony both of whom consistently deliver on the charm. The pair are just very likeable and their energy carries the film and keeps it entertaining throughout. Favreau has also surrounded himself with a great supporting cast of accomplished actors, ensuring that even the minor roles are done justice and providing us with enjoyable cameos. Sofía Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman and even Robert Downey Jr. all pop up and get their fair share of the lime light, while John Leguizamo takes on the role of Carl's best friend and right hand man Martin and Oliver Platt fills the boots of food critic Ramsey Mitchell. As is always the case with an ensemble as brimming with talent as this, some get more to do that others, but everybody serves the plot and make Carl's journey all the more engaging to follow.
In it's second half the story takes us into road-movie territory as Carl travels the country with his son, his best friend and his truck. The wonderful, upbeat soundtrack and gorgeous cinematography capture their travels in a warm glow that will surely make many pine for the opportunity to take such a trip and allows Favreau to capture the multi-faceted landscape of the country. While Chef tells a better than expected story and delivers in almost every other department, it underwhelms in one fundamental area, the food itself. We live in a time where a new cooking show emerges every other week and culinary competitions are television events, where more attention is payed to the meals that Hannibal Lecter makes out of his victims than the way in which he kills them and the term 'food-porn' is a real thing. It's such a shame then, that though Favreau occasionally teases us with scenes showing the careful, beautiful preparation of his tantalising concoctions, these moments a fleeting and few. Surely a film that follows a chef revitalising his career is the perfect opportunity to bombard us with mouth-watering shots of the food he makes? It may be a small gripe for an otherwise lovely film, but Favreau really did miss an opportunity in not showcasing much more of the glorious food that he shamelessly celebrates.
Chef is an oft- funny, sweet tale of a father and son reconnecting and enjoying each others company. The film concludes quite abruptly and in a very cliché style, but the preceding events are so much fun to follow that it can be forgiven it's lazy ending. Favreau and his actors are all on top form and serve us an upbeat, entertaining experience. I just wish there would have been more food.