Before you understand why I’m about to gush over Jon Favreau’s tantalizing new movie Chef, please understand a few things about me. I’m an avid movie lover (as most film critics are), a passionate foodie (if the best burger is 20 miles away from me, I’ll gladly make the trip), and a passionate cook who loves to please his hungry crowd (ladies). With all those things said, Chef is a heartwarming smorgasbord that depicts writer/director Jon Favreau’s coming full circle in his filmmaking career, enduring all the hardships that come from starting on simple indie roots and growing into one of Hollywood’s most sought after blockbuster directors.
This is a man who broke out by messing around with his buddy Vince Vaughn in hip films like Made and Swingers, which helped him deservedly win the opportunity to kickstart Marvel’s now dominant stranglehold on the superhero action genre. Favreau recognizes that chefs are some of the most passionate, driven, and hard-working professionals around, and he so blissfully conveys his own personal filmmaking experiences through the fiery world of cooking, critiquing, and absolutely eviscerating tastebuds. Hope you’re hungry – because Favreau will leave your mouth watering!
Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) works day in and day out to please his customers, running the kitchen of a highly praised restaurant. Only the freshest ingredients enter and only the tastiest meals leave, which is why the arrival of a prestigious local film critic doesn’t rattle him in the least. Preparing a new menu that will blow away the food blogger, he’s told by his manager no menu changes will be allowed, and the normal food options will be served all night. Low and behold, Casper ends up reading a critical review blasting his lack of creative prowess, ultimately leaving his vicious customer wanting more. Remaining as cool as possible, Carl tries to shrug off the comments, but one can only shrug off such a critical attack for so long. After some meltdowns and rash decision making, Favreau finds himself out of a job and searching for redemption – which he hopes to find in a food truck. Thus begins Carl Casper’s road to redemption and soulfulness, whipping up meals that made him famous for new locations across the country – a journey full of discovery, reflection, and a whole lot of Cuban sandwiches.
As a film critic, I found it almost impossible to not relate Chef to my own critical writing. Here’s Carl Casper, cooking his heart out making meals he’s robotically agreed to do because it pays the big bucks, only to have his name tarnished by some popular critic who “vomits” hateful words out on a website – aka me. The internet gives so many people a voice, and Twitter gives instant access, and Favreau’s inclusion of such reckless abandonment for social decency so truly predicts the spiteful world we now live in – both a warning and revelation for critics so content with hatemongering for more hits.
Obviously Favreau’s blockbuster productions, like Cowboys & Aliens, represent the phase in Carl’s life spent working for a demanding boss (Hoffman) who controls decisions, choking the soulful representation of Carl in his most flavorful dishes. Carl’s vision is strong, robust, and bursting with energy, yet there’s a leash reigning him in, forcing another night of caviar and chocolate lava cakes – safe choices that customers will keep ordering time and time again. This story has been marinating over time, as it’s obvious to tell, and thankfully Jon let the flavors develop into something ripe with such a vocal, commanding presence before presenting his gourmet treat.
Seeing Jon Favreau back in his “food truck” phase put a gleaming smile on my face, full of the writer’s signature dialogue that harkens back once again to some of the most entertaining moments found in Swingers. There’s a particular scene with Robert Downey Jr. that cements Jon’s glorious return to form, engaging Robert and Jon’s characters in a witty exchange that displays perfect rhythm, poignant comedy, and deadpan acting in ways that Favreau has recently been missing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Iron Man films, full of zingers and lighthearted jokes, but you can tell Favreau’s free reign is something he’s been missing, and it’s something that WE’VE been missing as well.
Chef assembles a wonderful supporting cast who compliment Carl Casper like a properly paired beer and burger, with John Leguizamo and youngster Emjay Anthony leaving lasting impressions as his sous-chef and son. Leguizamo brings that Latin flair he’s always known for and the fast talking comedic relief, but the chemistry between his character and Carl create a loving bond between two best friends chasing their dream together. Emjay, on the other hand, evokes Carl’s emotional side, peeling back the hardened layers years of tireless days of cooking had created. With the likes of Robert Downey Jr., Sofía Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale and Oliver Platt – this is a heavyweight cast, but without Leguizamo and Anthony riding shotgun with Favreau, Carl’s journey wouldn’t have such depth and tonal weight. It’s impossible not to be overcome with joy while watching these three dynamite foodies entertain and stuff the masses.
Mothers always like to tease that their meals are better because they’re cooked with love, but Jon Favreau gives beautiful meaning to such a phrase with Chef. This is his labor of love, his epic return to indie form, his passion project that so desperately needed to be developed – a story that’s been building for years in the mind of a brilliant, thoughtful filmmaker. Roads to redemption have been traveled before, but Chef contains spices that unlock entirely new realms previously undiscovered or newly re-imagined. Cooking isn’t just a primal instinct, it’s a passion-filled act that lets a chef’s true spirit, his soulful makeup, be injected into each and every delectable bite. Filmmaking requires that same, laborious passion, and Jon Favreau blends both worlds perfectly to create a succulent masterpiece oozing every ounce of the filmmaker’s soul – a crowning cinematic achievement in Favreau’s famed career.
Chef is created with the freshest ingredients, precision execution, and the most personal, insightful, and revealing focus possible, making for a five-star meal that leaves you begging for a sixth, seventh, or however many courses you can handle before your stomach explodes.
Chef's delicious nature has left me starving for more - more of Favreau's beautiful, heartfelt storytelling and free creative reign. A true, gourmet treat.