For a blog that’s almost exclusively focused on restaurant reviews, penning the same for a movie sure raised my eyebrows. Now, I am assuredly not the next Roger Ebert, but I am one of the first to be privy to Jon Favreau’s foodie film Chef – due for release in May 8 in all major cinemas out there.
Why? The movie deserves one.
Be warned, this review contains some minor story spoilers, but I actually don’t think that impacts your enjoyment of the movie at all. This isn’t one of those “lose all appeal if you find out the story beforehand” movies. Trust.
The premise is simple: as Chef de Cuisine of a top-rated LA restaurant, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is doing well professionally, though struggling with family life since his divorce from ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara), and finding time for his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).
The restaurant’s menu, a decade-old, is moss-encroachingly stagnant. He wants to embark on new cuisine – terra nova, but the old-hat restaurant manager Riva (Dustin Hoffman) is convinced that as long as the bookings keep coming, the same banal menu can be plated and piped down customer’s throats. Casper obliges, dishes out the same old, instead of a beautifully new, revamped menu…on the same night as Ramsey Michel, LA’s top restaurant critic (Oliver Platt), is in for one hell of a critiquing.
After a series of rather unfortunate events, partly caused by Casper’s amusingly explosive and dramatic temper, and a tenuous grasp of how Twitter (and by extension, social media) works, his fall from grace was all but cinematically assured.
Cue Casper’s rediscovery of his passion – cooking for himself, not for a manger with an outmoded view on the future of food. How so? With a food truck, of course! An unlikely, but fortuitous sponsorship by Inez’s other divorced ex-husband, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) bears fruit in the form of a banged up relic of a taco truck. After some serious loving, El Jefe’s Cubano (Cuban Sandwiches) food truck is born. Percy comes along for the ride, picking up some serious Cuban culinary clout along the way. Cue the happy days, strengthening family relations and all the good things that help those endorphins gush.
Unabashed close-up shots and a theatrical score for cooking scenes give the audience some serious cravings. The stomach grumbles audible above the high-definition rhythm of frying bacon. Never have I wanted to eat a three-cheese, oil-soaked monster of a sandwich as much as I did after seeing Casper make it to the tune of Mexican cha cha.
If sandwiches don’t do it for you, how about some incredible Texas ranch-smoked beef? The lens was zoomed in so far into this pink slice of heaven that you couldn’t help but try to convince your vegetarian friends to take up meat again. But first, you have to take another slice yourself.
As a food photographer who sometimes goes to ridiculous lengths to get a good shot, the film makers do the food takes ravishingly well. I’ve only cited two examples; I’ll save the best for when you watch it yourself.
Seriously, the #FoodPorn is divine. Some people eat with their eyes – it’s safe to say that you’ll want to do a lot more than just that after seeing Chef.
The acting is generally on the ball as well – director-actor Favreau holds nothing back, with his dry wit and straightforward approach to his delivery. Sometimes it feels contrived, but those moments are few and far in between.
He also unleashes acting talent, like Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansen stealing the floor. It’s a bit of a fantasia to star such actors in a humble movie about a guy who drives and grills sandwiches for a living, but hey, we’re all in for a bit of fun. Besides, you can expect plenty of laughs to be had. If it weren’t for the copious amount of swearing in the movie (because **** Twitter, right?), it would easily be pants-droppingly, family-rated funny. As it stands, it’s just hilarious and that’s not a bad thing.
Deeper themes do crop up in the movie, and more than just in passing. The shaky relationship between restaurant critics and chefs is a key driver of the plotline, and those who are one and/or the other will find something here to relate to. The impact of social media – both positive and negative, is exemplified, nay, shouted out at you in caps. You can’t miss it. I personally related to a fair bit of it, you might too.
Overall, if you’ve got even a passing interest in food, don’t care too much for a realistic depiction of what’s going on in a kitchen (be that on wheels or not), and just want to unwind with an unpretentious 2-hour laugh, Chef is your movie.
See it from May 8!
For some further reading, NY Times has a great piece on the behind-the-scenes.
All images in this post (including the header photo) have been provided for, and kind permission given by Studio Canal Australia.