Left to Right: Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Jon Favreau, and Oliver Platt at the SXSW premiere of Chef.
SXSW 2014: Chef
Review by Daniel Rester
After making big-budget Hollywood films like Iron Man (2008) and Cowboys & Aliens (2011), Jon Favreau returns to his smaller, more comedic roots with Chef. The film was not only written and directed by him, but he also stars as the main character. This might seem like a risky move after coming off of the blockbuster ladder, but Favreau manages to pull it off for the most part.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, an L.A. chef who finds himself in a rut in terms of both his family and work. He tries to get more artistic with his cooking after a food critic (Oliver Platt) tears apart his work, but his manager (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to the menu. When things go further downhill, Casper winds up in Miami with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Soon he, Percy, and an ex-cooking partner (John Leguizamo) find themselves running a food truck. In making such a move, Casper hopes to find his creative juices again and to bond more with his family.
Chef is a breezy comedy from the word go. Favreau doesn’t try to push the film to any big levels but instead sticks to amiable formulas that work. He has, however, assembled a big cast for the material; even the small supporting parts in the film include Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Bobby Cannavale.
Despite the talented cast involved (with Hoffman adding dramatic weight and Leguizamo mixing in hilarious touches), this is Favreau and Anthony’s show for the most part. The film mostly tracks Carl and Percy’s relationship, providing (too) many father-son bonding moments as they get the pans sizzling again on their adventure. The two have terrific chemistry together, with Anthony holding his own next to Favreau and Lequizamo as well. Favreau also gives a very likable, naturalistic performance in the lead role.
As writer-director, though, Favreau’s work is hit and miss. He fills the script with multiple funny moments – including a sharp exaggeration of food criticism – and does a good job at presenting the artistry that can go into making food. This film definitely succeeds at making an audience hungry, so don’t go in on an empty stomach. Favreau also does a fine job at capturing the multiple settings used in Chef — from displaying the various lands to exhibiting famous foods from certain locations.
But for all of the smart writing and direction that go into a few moments, there are other moments around the corner from them that are meh. Some of the character relations become repetitive as well as things move along. And then there are also a numbing amount of food montages and references to social media sites; this film is in love with Twitter. Such things make the film feel a little long by the end, and then everything wraps up in a way that seems a bit too good to be true for the main character.
Chef has its issues and a mediocre air about it at times, but it is still welcome to see Favreau tackling this type of film again. Simply put, Chef is easygoing and enjoyable but also pretty forgettable. It would still be nice to see Favreau making these smaller films more often, though.
Score: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B-)
Runtime: 1 hour and 55 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: May 9th, 2014.