REVIEW: ‘Chef’

Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau
John Leguizamo
Emjay Anthony
Sofia Vergara
Rated: R

After a string of high budget blockbusters, Director Jon Favreau has returned to the smaller screen in the indie comedy “Chef.”

Not only does Favreau direct the picture, he writes and stars as the main character, too. Favreau plays Carl Casper, A chef who has had a relatively good career working at an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles. While his career has gone somewhat smoothly, the same cannot be said for his family life.

Carl is divorced in “Chef,” having been previously married to a woman named Inez, played by Sofia Vergara. On top of dealing with the break-up, Carl has also found the relationship between him and his son to be rather strained.

The good times at Carl’s career begin to turn bad, though, as a food critic, played by Oliver Platt, comes to the restaurant for a review and the owner of the eatery, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, tells Carl that he can’t change the menu. Because he is unable to be fresh and original with his food, the meal he makes is unimpressive and gets blasted by Platt’s character.

The situation snowballs for Carl from their and by the end of the fiasco he ends up out of a job. As his search begins to try and find his next move in life, he gets an idea from Inez to open up his own food truck. Carl reluctantly goes with the decision and finds that it may just reignite his passion for cooking.

The story of “Chef” starts off strong enough as the film gives the audience the right amount of backstory with the character Carl.

The movie shows his problems with his son and the difficulty of trying to keep passion in his career going, and proceeds to explore the resolutions to both very thoroughly. What’s even better is the journey of doing so turns out to be a very fun, charming ride.

The only downside to the story of “Chef” is that it felt like it wrapped itself up too nicely, and some of the characters seen earlier were absent after the first half. It felt as though the movie hit a speed bump right at the end when it was doing so well and it ends up dragging the movie down just a tad.

Another small complaint was a cameo appearance by Robert Downey Jr. Downey is a great talent and has worked with Favreau in the “Iron Man” films, but unfortunately, the scene he was in during “Chef seemed to be tonally out of place with the rest of the picture.

The rest of the characters work well, though, mainly because of the nice screenplay by Favreau. The dialogue in the film has a very real feel to it. No one is too over the top in their characterization except for a few moments here or there.

For the most part, these characters come off as real and sincere which makes the humorous and emotional segments carry more weight.

The characters, thanks to the writing, all seem honest and understandable. Even some of the characters who seem more on the antagonist side of things, like Hoffman’s and Platt’s characters, seem to have their own way of thinking that just happened to differ with the main protagonist at certain points. Nothing is ever done with real malice in the movie, and it makes everything more believable.

Because of this, the film is able to really focus on both Carl finding his passion with cooking and mending a stained relationship with his son without the movie feeling either too sappy or mean spirited.

In the leading role, Favreau gives a very strong and natural performance. Usually he is known for his work behind the camera more than in front of it, yet he pulls off the leading man gig nicely here. Through his performance it becomes so apparent how much cooking and the art of making a meal are to the main character.

The supporting cast is filled with some nice talent, and each gives a good performance. Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt and Bobby Cannavale each had good moments in the movie, despite not having a ton of screen time.

The best performance in terms of the supporting cast, though, was John Leguizamo as Carl’s line-cook Martin. Leguizamo’s character has a lot of loyalty to Carl and it really shows. There was a real sense of camaraderie between the two because of the delivery between both actors.

Playing the role of Carl’s son Percy in the movie was Emjay Anthony. The young newcomer does quite well surrounded by the talent he works with, not only by playing his part well, but also working with the other actors on screen. The bond his character and Favreau’s feels legitimate.

The best part of the movie, though, is the cinematography. Each time that food is being prepped and/or cooked, Favreau turns all the attention towards it. The filming captures every aspect of the cooking process and by doing so captures the passion and energy that the characters put into it.

“Chef” is a fantastic feel good movie with very honest heart and sincere, real characters who give some good humor sprinkled throughout. On top of that, the camera work is A+ material. The movie is hurt by a few flaws, but they come off as just minor complaints when looking at the big picture. “Chef” gets a 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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