Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Made”)
Written by: Jon Favreau (“Swingers”)
If the effectiveness of a food-based film is based on how much said movie makes your mouth water for the dishes cooked on screen, rank director/actor/writer/produer John Favreau’s new comedy among the finest dining experiences at the theater in recent years. It may not make you have a food orgasm like in “Like Water for Chocolate,” but Favreau definitely teases the tastebuds.
It all starts with Favreau’s spirited and realistic script that allows his actors to play their roles without any artifice. In the film, Favreau takes on the lead role of Carl Casper, a chef of an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles where he has built a solid following cooking really good food. But Carl wants to do more than play it safe in the kitchen. He wants to experiment and take risks. Restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman), however, wants him to stick to the menu and cook the dishes he’s been making for the last five years. After a nasty war of words on social media with high-profile food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who lambasts Carl’s latest effort in the kitchen, Carl sees no other choice but to pack his knives and find a new start in the culinary world. Taking advice from his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), he heads east with her and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony) for the summer to Miami where Carl starts a food truck business.
While the film isn’t breaking any new ground thematically, Favreau seems dead set on making “Chef” seem as true to life as possible. Much of this comes through the dialogue and interaction between characters, specifically Carl and Percy whose father/son relationship is sweet, but never cloying. Favreau also finds a natural give-and-take rapport with actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo, who play support staff in his kitchen. The latter finds his way to Miami later in the film to lend Carl a hand with his new endeavor. Also joining the cast for bit parts are Black Widow and Iron Man themselves, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr., both of whom give the film a little more star power for those moviegoers who will more than likely overlook an indie gem like this and settle for superhero fare this summer.
After mixed results with the blockbuster projects he’s directed in the last few years (“Iron Man” good, “Cowboys & Aliens,” not so much), it’s refreshing to see Favreau find his way back to a more intimate story where character development and smart dialogue trump everything else. There is a lot of cooking going on in “Chef,” but it’s easy to see the main course in this film is about Carl’s shortcomings as a father. Favreau is able to balance this narrative well, especially with the effortless performance he gets from his costar Anthony. It’s a great pairing that’ll make both your stomach and your heart expand.
“Chef” was seen at SXSW 2014. For more SXSW 2014 coverage, click here.