Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) was once the talk of the town. There was a time when he was the ‘it’ Chef among America’s top chefs. But things have certainly changed since then. His marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara) is over and he never gets to spend as much time as he would like with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Things reach boiling point however with his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) no longer giving him any creative freedom and popular food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) trashing his food all over the internet. Urged on by Inez and colleagues Martin (John Leguizamo) and Molly (Scarlett Johansson) he decides to start exploring ways to get his creativity back.
There’s no doubt that cooking is the ‘in’ thing at the moment. Shows like Master Chef have become must sees for a majority of people while chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver are now household names. Often though when a filmmaker decides to latch onto a popular topic the result is a rushed film that never reaches full potential. That is not the case with Chef though, no this surprise little hit is one of the biggest surprises of 2014.
As a director and actor Jon Favreau often surprises his fans. Over recent years he’s been involved with the much maligned Cowboys & Aliens and has also been the man wearing many hats on the Iron Man franchise. That’s why it comes as such a surprise that he is the man behind Chef, a well-thought drama with just the right hint of comedy. It is also just inventive enough to make it different to a lot of the films around at the moment.
Favreau brings a long of heart to the film as it warms the soul and titillates the tastebuds. Watching Casper cook up a sizzling pasta dish that more than impresses the beautiful Molly and then produce mouth watering toasted sandwiches leaves you planning what restaurant you are going to eat at when you leave the cinema. Luckily though the characters and storyline are so interesting they’ll make sure you don’t plan for a quick getaway from your seat.
Casper is a nice guy. Yes he may let out a few obscenities here and there but at the end of the day he is a frustrated creative man who doesn’t realise just how much damage he is doing to his family. He’s also a believable character and Favreau adds to that believability by the fact that he isn’t some drop dead gorgeous model type. No instead he looks just like your average everyday father, okay given that it is a bit far-fetched that he may date both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson, which is certainly going to mean that the males in the audience are going to relate to the story a hell of a lot better.
As far as directing goes this is Favreau’s best film to date. His ability to capture the essence of each city the food van travels through is a gift upon itself, while he also manages to capture the whole Twitter storyline with a little bit of creativity and not stooping as low as making it a full on advert for the social media giant. Perhaps the best part of Chef though is the way the film seems to just drift between genres with such little effort. Part family drama, part road movie with a smatter of comedy Chef is perhaps the first film in this new ‘culinary’ genre that doesn’t just focus on the food and not have an interesting story at its helm. Certainly a lot of the French directors that have tried to raise this genre from the dead could learn a lot from Chef.
The other major plus that Favreau brings to Chef is the little black book of actors that he has worked with. Bringing actors of the calibre of Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jnr. on board is a major coup for the film. While they are kept to minor roles people such as Favreau himself and John Leguizamo get a chance to shine. Leguizamo is very much one of Hollywood’s forgotten stars but here shows why he should never be completely written off. He plays the side kick very well here and to his credit never becomes a walking cliché.
Also putting in a wonderful performance here is young Emjay Anthony who plays the inventive Percy. With the limited experience the young actor had before Chef it is a real surprise just how well he delivers a performance that is well beyond his years. Also worth a mention is Sofia Vergara who at times can be annoying in films, but here holds her own and is extremely likable. For some reason Favreau seems to be one of those directors who can bring out the best in his entire cast.
The term ‘culinary’ genre has almost become a negative. Many French directors have tried to develop a monopoly on the genre but most of their films have ended up being snooze fests that are a sure cure for insomnia. That certainly isn’t the case for Chef which ends up being the perfect mix of sizzling food fuelled visuals and heart-felt storyline. This is one of the surprise hits of 2014.
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Emjay Anthony, Sofia Vergara, Robert Downey Jnr., Dustin Hoffman
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: 25th June 2014