Director Jon Favreau is no stranger to the world of indie filmmaking. He started his career with the stylish comedy, ‘Swingers’ and went on to bigger budget fare like ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Elf.’ In that respect, ‘Chef’ is a somewhat autobiographical story about a guy who feels stifled and goes back to his creative roots. Foodies will love the mouthwatering montage scenes of chopping, slicing and filleting succulent dishes. Warning - make a reservation at your favorite restaurant after watching it. It is guaranteed to make you hungry. It’s a feel-good story that at times, is thin on plot but the crisp editing, cinematography and soundtrack make it a very entertaining feast.
Written, directed and starring Favreau, he plays Carl Casper, a successful LA chef at a popular dining spot on the tony Westside. Even minor roles are filled with talented actors including Dustin Hoffman as Riva, the restaurant owner and Scarlett Johansson as Molly, the maitre d’ that respects Carl’s exceptional culinary skills. When they hear that an important food critic/blogger (Oliver Platt) plans to visit the restaurant, everyone is a bit nervous and wants to make a good impression. Carl wants to try out a new cutting-edge menu but Riva insists the chef “should play your hits.” An argument ensues and Carl is left packing his knives and losing his job.
With no career prospects, Carl has more time to spend with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). This kid is terrific as his son. Many child actors have a tendency to be too precocious and annoying but Anthony underplays his role nicely. When Carl gets into a feud with the food critic on the internet and an embarrassing video goes viral, it’s Percy who teaches his father about social media. Twitter takes center stage and it perfectly illustrates that kids know how to use it better than adults. Percy helps Carl create a Twitter account and later in the film, he shows his father how to use it as an effective and cost-efficient marketing tool. Carl’s ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) is supportive and as a way to get him to consider a start-up food truck business, invites him to Miami and watch Percy while she works. All the pieces fall into place when Inez’ first ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) loans him the money and a dilapidated food truck to start his entrepreneurial journey.
The story turns into a road film as his son and old cooking pal Martin (played well by John Leguizamo) help him get the rusty truck up to speed and the menu finely tuned. One of the best scenes is when Carl shows Percy how to make a Cuban sandwich. It not only shows Carl’s passion for cooking but is an endearing father-and-son moment. As he presses the Cubano sandwich to a golden brown, he explains to his son, “That’s how you want to make it every time.” Some of the road scenes tend to drag a little but the vibrant cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau (Thor: The Dark World) and the high-energy soundtrack make it a good time.
Favreau’s brand of neurotic humor is funny. It’s a pleasure to see him get back to his indie roots with this metaphorical film. Heads up to families, unfortunately the film is rated R for strong language. ‘Chef’ expands nationwide, check your area for showtimes. Here’s the official trailer http://youtu.be/wgFws3AoIUY.