One of the interesting aspects of writer/director/actor Jon Favreau’s movie-making style is that he loves to get into the story and get out. It can make for rapid fire storytelling that leaves you excited and thrilled, as is the case with the first Iron Man movie. Or it can be discombobulated and frenetic, as it is in Iron Man 2.
His latest effort, Chef, follows an excellent master of cuisine named Carl Casper (played by Favreau himself). The film is no exception to this quick and light style, and for the most part, that works greatly to its benefit. Each scene flows quickly into the next, and as a viewer, you find yourself surprised at how quickly you’ve made it to the end credits. This does upon further reflection, however, leave a sense that there is a certain lack of depth to the characters in Favreau’s story, but notwithstanding, there is fun to be had in this cinematic treat for the epicurean in us all.
Casper gets fired from his high end restaurant by not following strict instruction from his restaurant’s owner and boss, Riva (played by a very underutilized Dustin Hoffman. With such a talented actor as Hoffman, there are hardly two dimensions drawn to this flat, no-nonsense restaurant owner, which is too bad, considering how they could’ve possibly expanded that role due to his rather unnecessary presence). Yet, playing into the quickness of the story, we are soon to leave behind Casper’s life as the restaurant’s head chef, and follow his journey to whatever his next phase will bring him.
The instructions he so woefully ignored were simply to follow a menu he had been making day after day, for far too long. In wanting to stretch his talented sights upon creativity in his cooking, he was shut down, and all just in time for a critic to be severe in his review of the great Casper’s culinary arts, accusing Casper of being boring and repetitive when he was only wishing to be anything but.
It’s a simple premise, really, but enough of one to drive the action outside the restaurant and onto the road. Casper faces problems elsewhere in his life, such as not being a very good and present father in the life of his son, and certainly not being a good husband to his wife Inez (Sofía Vergara) from whom he is separated at the outset of the movie. Favreau treads a very thin line in playing Casper. He is likeable only to a certain point, but then he’ll do certain actions or say thoughtless words that will cause you to sense that he’s really not quite the “good guy” you feel you ought to be cheering for in a film like this—such as promising his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), a grand trip “next month” to New Orleans, then not following through the moment something comes up that could potentially advance his career. But the set up of such tomfoolery is purposeful, as certain events lead to (expected) changes, and although this happens somewhat predictably, Favreau’s charm exonerates whatever sense of boredom a lesser actor would otherwise bring to such a role.
Once the main action of the movie is a father spending time with his son, there grows a general warming to the film overall. They start a food truck together, and with the help of one of Casper’s very loyal former employees back at the restaurant, their journey through a summer with their food truck touring shenanigans is fun for the whole family. It seems strange using that phrase, as often it connotes a sort of gooey sentimentality that robs some family films of their authenticity. But here again, Favreau’s real sense of genuine charm and Vergara’s added wit and gracefulness, (sometimes absent in her more famously bombastic role as Gloria on Modern Family), really bring a wholesome amusement to this carefree, light story.
There’s a rather non-sequitur cameo by Robert Downey Jr., as Inez’s other ex-husband, and the plot device for which he is brought into the film is a tad contrived, which sort of brings down the credibility of the flick as a whole, but they can’t all be perfect. Downey Jr. is always fun to have around screen in his jolly, sarcastic tone, even if it doesn’t really fit with the overall picture.
Another mildly interesting factor to Chef is that it really, REALLY hits you over the head with the social media landscape in which we all now live. It may as well be an advertisement for Twitter. This is yet another factor that can be distracting from the story Favreau’s trying to tell; that said, it often brings around certain plot points that could otherwise seem like they don’t belong at first. It’s certainly not bad, but it just can be a bit much.
It’s a lemonade-sipping type of film, and when taken for what it is, it can bring a smile to the oft-blockbuster heavy summer movie season.