Chef is the kind of enjoyable, good-natured comedy that’s frequently accused of being a vanity project by detractors. Written, directed, and co-produced by Jon Favreau, the film is light on conflict but heavy on familiar themes such as appreciating your family and work to live, not live to work. It could have easily been a PG-rated family comedy with minor rewrites, but Favreau makes the right decision in making it a bit edgier and giving us a look at the profanity-laced culture that is a restaurant kitchen. It also features plenty of mouth-watering food photography. This is one beautifully shot film.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a renowned chef who’s prepping for the arrival of influential online food critic Ramsey Michel (Platt) as the film opens. He wants to feature a new menu, but the restaurant owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), insists he keeps to the tried-and-true old menu. Michel pans the food in his review, and takes a few potshots at Carl himself, prompting Carl to confront him in front of a packed house. The move costs him his job. His family situation isn’t much better, as he’s separated from his wife (Vergara) and doesn’t spend enough time with his son (Emjay Anthony). It’s all about to get better as he purchases a food truck, refurbishes it, and hits the road in an effort to start a new chapter of his life.
Though overlong and dry in spots (how many times can we watch the same food being prepared?), Chef succeeds thanks to Favreau’s charisma and a refreshing well-intentioned story that always has its heart in the right place. Carl’s confrontation with Ramsey is one of the funniest scenes of the year, and the film has a lot of fun with social media and the viral, sensational digital world we live in. Fine supporting work is turned in by Vergara and newcomer Emjay Anthony, who really adds a lot of depth to the father-son aspect of the story. Chef is far from groundbreaking or even original, but it is the kind of well-made comfort food that we don’t get often enough at the movies. Just don’t go in hungry.
Studio: Open Road Films
Length: 114 Minutes
Rating: R for language, including some suggestive references.
Theatrical Release: May 9, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt