‘Chef’ is One Delicious Delight From SXSW
Over the past six years, director Jon Favreau has shined in the mainstream spotlight with his pair of financial hits, Iron Man and Iron Man 2. That’s all fine making a name for himself to regular moviegoers. But seeing him go back to his roots in Chef is a well-deserved treat.
Favreau dons plenty of different hats in Chef. From director to producer to screenwriter, his signature mark is all over the film. As celebrity chef Carl Casper, Favreau distinctly pours his heart into the project. Casper is a well-renowned master chef working at Dustin Hoffman’s Los Angeles restaurant. The clientele adore the never-changing menu. When top online food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) stops by, Carl wants to spice things up for the night.
That’s just the start of Carl’s problem, when Hoffman demands he stick to the same menu. Michel answers back with a negative review, setting Carl off. In response, Carl joins Twitter thanks to his tech-savvy son. But unfortunately his newbie mistake posting his retort live. After catching the attention of legions of social media followers and his boss, Carl quickly finds himself out of a job.
From acclaim to nothing in a matter of days, Carl ventures to Miami to rekindle his love for cooking and his creative liberty. For any creative out there, one can empathize with Carl’s struggle. To maintain a job, you do have to do what your boss tells you. But there’s always the door and the opportunity to be your own boss. Carl does exactly that, starting up a food truck business serving Cuban sandwiches.
SEE ALSO: SXSW 2014: Chef – Review by Daniel Rester
Chef tries to accomplish much in two hours. While the result is delicious, there’s also an uneven undercurrent. The first thirty minutes revel in lovely cinematography. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau captures many mouthwatering shots of food in Carl’s kitchen in such close proximity. Very few culinary films manage to be so bold and the ones that do are framed as documentaries.
That sense of awe goes away as Chef moves forward. Once Carl goes on the road with his son, the shot of food are less focused. Granted, we still get up close and personal on his food truck, but it lacks the elegance that existed at the beginning.
The road trip segment hits every beat you’d expect from an estranged father-son dynamic. Carl’s been so caught up in his work for many years that he’s had little time for his son. The result is loaded with predictability, but the tenderness hardly dips in its impact. There’s also plenty of genuine humor to go around between Favreau and on-screen son Emjay Anthony.
Favreau spends a majority of Chef riding the line between being timely and timeless. Incorporating social media in film has been a trend as of late. At first glance, watching tweets litter the screen may seem gimmicky and distracting. Still, Favreau succeeds in enhancing his storytelling. At first, it’s there simply to get Carl in trouble, but it goes beyond that. It’s a testament to contemporary marketing and ultimately bonds the working father-son relationship.
Chef is best described as a humorous four-course meal with no issues holding its own. It’s a breath of fresh air from the onslaught of Hollywood blockbusters, but remains loaded with a star-studded cast. Favreau’s buddies from Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson pop in briefly. Plus with Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara and John Leguizamo, it carries itself as an accessible indie film for the masses.
Favreau wraps up a bit too clean, greatly inspired by other recent culinary films. By no means does it undo the previous two hours of delicious smorgasbord. Chef’s charm and wit prevails.