I should confess right away that I’m not particularly subject to the seemingly popular genre now known as “food porn,” that a lot of people seem to go nuts over. I like food as much as the next person, and sure, lots of shots of food being made and cooked will probably make me hungry right away, but as far as a movie goes, that can’t be the only aspect of entertainment involved when you’re watching something, and with Jon Favreau’s pet project Chef, I suspect that that is entirely the reason that it’s proved to have such staying power since it came out back in May. And frankly, given the fact that at least 70% of what’s shown cooking in this movie is fried, greasy food truck product, I have to admit I’m a little grossed out by what that implies. No wonder this country is so obese.
But that was a total digression and has almost nothing to do with the film itself, which is a fluffy, simple, crowd pleasing story of a father-son bonding experience that comes across as completely sincere and from Favreau’s heart- even if that heart has way too big a tendency toward fried, fattening foods. Favreau wrote, directed and stars in this small movie that he recruited several of his pals to be in (see Scarlett Johansson in a completely pointless role), and he’s chef Carl Casper, who’s bored by the way his life is going and disappointed that he can’t cook his own food at his restaurant, along with being a neglectful dad towards his 10-year-old son, who only wants to spend quality time with him. So, after getting himself fired from the restaurant and blowing up at a food critic who lambasted him online, Carl finally forces himself to stop whining and accept his ex-wife’s suggestion that he take up the offer from her other ex (Robert Downey Jr. in a very funny, scene stealing cameo) of a food truck that he will drive across the country and cook his own stuff in.
That leads to a long, family bonding road trip that he brings his kid on and the two start up a quickly booming business with Carl’s buddy and fellow cook John Leguizamo along for the ride. Despite the heavy focus on all the grease and carbs in these scenes, I actually much preferred watching the road trip part of the movie to the setup of Carl’s life crisis at the beginning. As cheesy as the bonding stuff is, I bought it in this case, and to me the father-son aspect of the film was the more honest place that Favreau was coming from. You can see and feel that he really cares about repairing that rift with his kid, although it’s a little puzzling to figure out why it’s there in the first place, given that he has such a fantastic relationship with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara). That brings me to the somewhat phony first half of the movie and the major question I had, which is, why on earth are these two people divorced in the first place? We are given no backstory, no cause of separation (even though the split appears to be somewhat recent, less than two years) and Favreau and Vergara get along so well that she spends the whole first hour begging him to let her help him set up and figure out a new career move- which she can also help with in any way he could possibly need, because she’s apparently so wealthy she has her own cooks, nannies and a publicist whose services she cheerfully hands over.
Given that very ideal divorce situation, I think I can be forgiven for thinking that Carl’s self-pity is a little out of place (and kind of annoyingly smug actually), especially when the catalyst for his success comes from his finally being humble enough to, you know, accept her help. Given where it all ends up as far as the “broken family” goes, the only thing standing in Carl’s way seemed to be some kind of misplaced pride that we are never privy to the reasons for. But hey, I was probably distracted by this kind of nitpicking because I wasn’t as completely drawn in by all the food porn scenes as everyone else will be (there’s a LOT, don’t worry). I think most people will love this movie for the closeups of food alone and not so much for the kid getting along with his dad, but it’s a pleasant, harmless little movie and the sincerity alone makes it worth a look.