One day, over lunch, my friend told me he hates eating. If he was able to just get the nutrients, energy and whatever else comes from eating without eating, he would do it in a heartbeat. Not only did it seem like a weird thing to just blurt out, but it was a crazy notion to me because I loved eating. The smells, the tastes all were awesome to me when I was having a decent to great meal. Why would I ever want to not have those experiences? There have been many movies on the subject of food. Some good, like Ratatouille and some are downright awful like The Last Supper. Now comes Jon Favreau’s version of a food movie. Could he do with that subject what he successfully did with comic books?
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a successful chef at a fancy Los Angeles restaurant. A food critic is coming to his diner and he excitedly plans a menu that brings forth his passion for cooking. Tony (Dustin Hoffman) the owner of the restaurant pulls rank and tells Carl to cook the regular menu. When the critic decimates the food that is set before him in a scathing blog article, Carl is distraught to the point of quitting his job when Tony won’t allow him to try it again with the food critic. With no job he reluctantly agrees to go with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) to Florida to watch their son (Emjay Anthony) while she does business. While there he decides to buy a dilapidated food truck and turn it into a truck that serves Cuban food. With the help of his son and former assistant chef Martin (John Leguizamo) they drive the truck across the country along the way stopping here and there to make food. All along the way, they grow in popularity and Carl and his son begin to connect in a way they hadn’t before.
Favreau has made another great movie, which I hope he continues after the deplorable Cowboys vs. Aliens. This is one of the better movies so far this year and it is all because of an intimate script, great casting, wonderful cinematography, a love for the subject matter and a touching story that draws the audience in directly. There is humor, drama and at times a little tear duct manipulation. Favreau is great as the main character adding an enthusiasm to his character for what he does that seeps through the screen. John Leguizamo provides most of the laughs but some added heart as well. Scarlet Johansson, as the hostess at the fancy restaurant isn’t given a lot of screen time, but what she does to help progress the story along is good. Sofia Vergara is also really good as the ex-wife and does well with her flirtatious nature with Favreaus character. Anthony as the young son needing his dad’s love and attention was great casting here because he nails it as a kid that wants to act mature but is still hinting at those childhood insecurities. His scenes together with Favreau are the highlights of the film. Another highlight is a great cameo appearance from a Favreau favorite.
Chef is a highly personal film that speaks volumes about the need a child has for his father. How fathers need to be highly involved with their kids and the importance of family. I hate admitting it, but there were scenes in this film between the father and son that got me chocked up. They were very well done and were not manipulative, just honest. Favreau is able to make a very truthful and engaging story that is pro family and one that explores what moves us and drives us as people. While his character is trying to rekindle his love for making good food he is using it as a powerful metaphor and rekindling the love for family. Great film.
3 and ½ stars out of 4