Release: Friday, May 9, 2014 (limited)
THE USE OF THIS VERY BAD MOVIE POSTER IS INTENTIONAL. IS THIS THE WORST MOVIE POSTER OF THE YEAR?
Finding his full-time position as an under-appreciated bodyguard to the world’s most famous egomaniac, Tony Stark, to be a complete chore, Jon Favreau recognizes that the time is now to break out of Dodge. Life’s too short to spend it being harangued by insecure billionaires.
It’s almost poetic, this shift in focus for the 22-year acting veteran, a big guy with a big spirit whose comedic timing and amiability will never cease to be in high demand. Favreau is an increasingly ubiquitous name, an actor who sets aside equal time for the epic action adventure as well as stories that have much more modest ambitions by comparison. In the case of his latest creation Chef, a delicious slice of cultural and culinary appreciation, he’s very much content with small, tasty appetizers before heading back into serving up main courses once more, and inevitably.
Not that there’d be anything wrong with seeing the dude pop up in more Marvel epics. For the time being, though, it’s nice to see him this passionate for material of this sort. Though the film is beautiful, there’s less glory in these films, a fact Favreau must surely acknowledge but is willing to accept as well.
Chef tells the story of an acclaimed cuisinier at a top-tier Los Angeles restaurant who simply lives to cook. Carl Casper has an idealogical struggle with the restaurant manager, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who insists that, on the night when a high-profile food blogger plans on dining there and reviewing the experience, Carl and his kitchen staff stick to the same old menu the restaurant has always relied upon. Considering the significance of the occasion, Carl feels it would be in the restaurant’s best interest to mix things up.
Of course, this is a movie; things will not be getting mixed up. At least, not in a way that’s quite so obvious. The reviewer comes, he eats, but he does not conquer. He also does not concur with what has been served to him on this occasion. His subsequent review slashes the establishment, and the blogger — a prickly man named Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) — goes to particular lengths to make the review a personal attack against Carl. The combination of the bad review and the struggle he faces with Riva together become the catalyst for Carl’s resignation. Hence, the narrative’s refocusing on how his changing career path will come to affect friends, family and most importantly, his character as both food enthusiast and father.
Favreau’s positively mouth-watering film is anything but original in terms of its conclusion, or even its design, yet it remains a creative and rich production. It cleverly combines this fictionalized yet authentic world that Carl inhabits with current social trends. Although Twitter’s inexplicable popularity isn’t likely to double overnight, Chef admittedly makes such cross-promotion feel less like a cool gimmick and more of a narrative tool, a natural development of a relationship forged between a wayward father and a desperate son, two characters both more in need of one another than either would ever care to vocalize. It is through Carl’s passion for cuisine he has the opportunity to make up for time lost.
As Carl figures out what the next step in his life will need to be, earnest drama simmers at the heart of this story like the hot juicy center of a tender steak. Favreau beautifully sells the indecisiveness of his character, as he struggles to make sense of what has just happened to him following the negative review and the actions he took to try and rectify it. It’s just the right amount, as well — there’s neither excessive fat nor such a lack thereof to make it a tough chew. Favreau deserves credit for having an eye for interesting subject matter, above all else.
What’s more universal than the appreciation of good food? (Well, other than good beer, of course. 😉 )
Recommendation: Fan of Jon Favreau? Fan of food? Why not unite both passions in one by seeing this delightfully funny and heartwarming treat from an enviable talent. Equal parts endearing and insightful, Chef mostly works because of its rock-solid performances — including a Favreau that might never have been better — and a genuinely grounded-in-reality vibe. You can almost smell the food through the celluloid. I wouldn’t blame anyone for trying to eat the screen, either. . .and if ever there’s been a film that deserves my shortbread pie rating system, it’s this one.
Running Time: 115 mins.
Quoted: “There are chefs who cook food that they believe in, and that people will try because they are open to new experiences and will end up liking it!”
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