On one level, “Chef” is a light comedy/drama about a chef that experiences a downfall in his life and slowly works his way back up from it. ‘Chef’ is, in one way, what I would call a feel good movie. Things don’t always go well for the titular chef, and he isn’t always likable in some of the things he does, but by the end, the movie gives an overall positive feeling both about its main character and life itself. It could even be seen as an inspirational movie.
On the other hand, “Chef” may be one of the longest forms ever of possibly the most-hated form of video ever: the advertisement. Yes, “Chef” could be seen as one movie-length advertisement for Twitter and Vine. There is also an appearance made by a real chef and Facebook gets a tiny mention as well, but it is largely Twitter and Vine that get the spotlight in this movie. Basically, Twitter and Vine end up being the saviors of the titular chef from his downfall.
Twitter in particular is shown a lot during “Chef”. At one point, many animated versions of Twitter’s bird logo start flying around and making their tweet sound. It was around this time that I started to roll my eyes and think that the movie took its use of Twitter too far. Twitter is essentially the main catalyst for most of the key moments in “Chef”. Both the downfall of the titular chef and his comeback all stem from things that involve Twitter.
The key moments in “Chef” that aren’t covered by Twitter are covered by Vine. Probably the most emotional and important scene at the end of the movie comes from something involving Vine. This scene had even been set-up throughout the movie with a character constantly trying to explain to the titular chef how great Vine can be. One of the final moments in the movie is either the titular chef having a great emotional epiphany about himself and his life or about the greatness of Vine. I’m honestly not sure which is a more accurate description of the scene.
So, here’s the thing: Twitter and Vine are both realities of the current times. Both of these social applications are used heavily in the U.S. right now. So, it isn’t surprising that characters would use these applications in a movie. In fact, it would be less realistic if one of them didn’t show up in some way, especially in a movie involving a character who is famous and wants to market himself.
That said, I think this movie may have gone too far with showing these two applications. There are so many moments in this movie where people talk about how great Twitter and Vine are that it starts to feel like one giant advertisement for the two applications. Then there was the scene where the Twitter birds start flying around the screen. Maybe that was just meant to be yet another light, feel-good, comedic moment, but to me, it felt like I was watching a commercial for Twitter.
I mean, at one point, before the chef understands what Twitter is, these other characters try to explain to him how good it is. As they describe it, he feels like it is a bad thing, but they try to explain how it is bad, but that’s what makes it good. It’s like the filmmakers are trying to sell Twitter to the audience. They are saying yes, I know it sounds bad, and I agree that it kind of is, but isn’t that what makes it so good and worthwhile to use? There is a very similar approach to this movie in terms of explaining how great Vine can be which leads to the titular chef’s final moment of epiphany which may be about himself and his life or may be just about how great Vine is.
I guess this is a half glass empty or half glass full situation. One person could look at this movie and find a light comedy/drama about a Chef trying to find his way back up after a downfall. Another person could look at this movie and find a long advertisement about a Chef that both experiences a downfall caused partly by his reluctance to use Twitter and Vine and finds his way back up only when he finally learns to embrace the life-saving Twitter and Vine. So, which one is this movie, really? I think it may honestly be a mixture of both.
The makers of “Chef” probably had to get the permission of Twitter and Vine to actually show their products in this movie. The companies probably wanted them to be featured in as prominent and as positive a way as possible. The makers of this movie, feeling gracious for the permission given to them from Twitter and Vine, probably didn’t want to in return show the products in a bad light or in a minimal way. This is all just my speculation and admittedly may not be the truth. I don’t know how it all really went down, but as far as I know, not every movie gets the chance to show the actual Twitter and Vine programs complete with animated logos flying across the screen, but then again, maybe movies shouldn’t do that kind of thing at all.
Yes, applications like Twitter and Vine are prominently used in the U.S. and so, yes, it does make sense for applications like these ones to appear in a movie, but do these specific applications themselves need to be shown? Most filmmakers would just make up a name for a Twitter or Vine equivalent to appear in their movie so as not to have to get permission or pay money or whatever would have to go down for them to be able to show these real applications in their movie. If the makers of “Chef” had just created fake applications that did the same things as Twitter and Vine for their movie then I think the movie would have turned out differently.
For example, let’s look at the scene where Twitter’s bird logo becomes animated and a bunch of the Twitter birds go flying across the screen. If this had been a fake application that was meant to be a stand-in for Twitter then do you think that the fake application’s logo would have become animated and have moved across the screen? No, I don’t think it would have. I mean, this moment in the movie serves no purpose to the story and could only be excused as a form of comedy. I don’t totally buy that it was meant to be just a comedic moment though. I believe that this moment took what could have been a simple realistic use of a product into flat-out look-at-how-magical-this-is advertisement.
I think the test for whether or not the use of Twitter or Vine in “Chef” is just realism or an advertisement is whether or not the filmmakers would have presented the applications in the same way in the movie if they had just been generic fake stand-in applications for Twitter and Vine. I do not believe that there would be as many scenes praising these applications if they were just fake ones created for the movie. Even if the fake applications did get as much praise, at least then the movie wouldn’t be directly name-dropping real applications and might feel less like an advertisement. However, maybe if they did it that way, it would still be obvious that the applications were supposed to be Twitter and Vine and then the movie would feel like a sneakier and more sinister form of advertisement than it feels like right now.
That’s the thing with “Chef”: if it is an advertisement then the makers of the movie aren’t trying hard to hide it at all. Maybe using Twitter and Vine was the best way for this movie to work. I mean, the story still would have involved a chef’s life essentially being turned around by social media applications whether they used the names of real applications or not. If this movie does work in getting people to use Twitter or Vine as the movie is now then it probably would have done the same if they had used fake names too. Also, is putting a positive spin on Twitter and Vine a bad thing?
Twitter and Vine and any other kinds of social media are constantly being criticized by people every day. The truth is though that these kinds of applications exist and that they are a part of our current culture whether people like it or not. Social media, in truth, can be a positive thing. Applications like Twitter and Vine can actually help people. These applications can actually connect people. I’ve talked to people I never would have been able to communicate with and I’ve found people that I never would have discovered otherwise through Twitter. Good causes have been brought to attention through social media. Lives may have actually been saved in part by social media. Yes, like anything, there can be some negative aspects to something like Twitter, but there truthfully can be a lot of positives. So, is there anything wrong with a movie trying to make this known?
I suppose in the case of “Chef”, there is nothing really evil going on whether it is an advertisement or not. I mean, I don’t think anything is being harmed with this movie except for maybe the movie itself. A viewer of “Chef” may lose some of their immersion in the story if they feel that it is more of a big advertisement showing the rise of a product that is being sold rather than the rise of a chef. However, beyond that, there really isn’t much bad that could happen from the possible advertising going on in “Chef”. Twitter and Vine might get more users because of “Chef”, but the world will still be going on pretty much just the same as it was before this movie. We just might hear or see more from these new users on the internet. I don’t really see much of a problem there.
However, if the use of Twitter and Vine in “Chef” creates a new standard for how real life products are used in movies then this could lead to some problems. I mean, it is one thing to promote mostly harmless programs like Twitter and Vine, but what if this allows filmmakers to start heavily promoting other, more harmful products? What if these other movies also aren’t so upfront about it? What if the other movies promote these harmful things in a more stealth and organic way through their stories? What if we don’t even notice that this type of advertising is happening and instead we just get sucked into it without even knowing?
These are scary things to think about and the truth is that they are probably already happening. John Oliver, on his show “Last Week Tonight”, has already done a highly-watched piece about stealth advertising via articles. He even confessed that to promote his show, HBO used stealth advertising via a list on Buzzfeed.com. It can seem like advertising is quickly creeping in to everything we watch and read. If the advertisements remain as harmless as the ones in “Chef” then there may not be much of anything to worry about here, but I do think it is wise to be perceptive about this type of advertising and that it is healthy to question whether use of actual products like this in storytelling is crossing any kind of line.
In the end, I don’t think the possible advertisements of “Chef” will have any immediate negative effect on their own, but that this type of potential advertising could, like anything, be used in a more sinister way. Advertising in a movie in particular, could not only be used to paint something harmful in a positive light, but could, on a simpler level, just take the viewer out of the immersion of the movie’s story. Right now, I don’t think things are too bad, but if they get worse then something may need to be done and a clearer line between advertisement and art will need to be drawn.