Take one father and son relationship drama and marinade it in metaphor for two hours. Then carefully slice and leave to stand allowing time for all the cliché to drain off.
Lay the pieces over a road trip scenario and add just a very thin layer of cheese so as not to overpower the other flavours.
Sprinkle with cameos and serve with a side of Pixar’s Ratatouille.
By following this recipe director John Favreau has cooked up Chef, a movie that is nicely tasty and easy to digest.
Okay, that’s it. I’m done with the food analogy now.
The film has a pretty straightforward premise which works well. Acclaimed chef Carl Casper wants to impress an influential food blogger so plans an innovative new menu for the night he is coming to dine. Unfortunately the narrow minded restaurant owner insists they serve the same food as normal which stopped impressing anyone but the tourists a long time ago. The Chef’s bad reaction to the resulting bad review, combined with his naivety concerning social media means the situation escalates and pretty soon he has lost both his job and his reputation.
Eventually he finds himself in a room with Robert Downey Jnr, who is apparently sending up his Tony Stark character, and salvation arrives in the form of a dilapidated old food truck. Before you know it man and vehicle are given a new lease of life and he’s on the road with his estranged son making and selling the most amazing looking steak sandwiches.
Favreau, who takes the lead as well as directing, has always been a very likeable screen presence. He’s never shown a terrible amount of range but, in films such as Daredevil, Wimbledon and Iron Man 1-3, has offered light relief in the dry yet dependable friend roles. That word, dependable, quite nicely describes how he is as a director as well.
Not really an auteur but a reliable director for hire he has called the shots on some good films. His greatest successes are the aforementioned Iron Man and its first sequel but his last movie Cowboys and Aliens was not particularly successful. The reviews were generally underwhelming with Rolling Stone describing it as an under spiced Western barbecue.
It is easy to see this lower budget film as a direct response to this. You want spice on the barbecue? Get a mouthful of this. Here we have the story of a once respected craftsman stifled by his profit obsessed financial backer and finding gratification in the freedom to make things his own way.
I’m not sure Favreau was ever quite the visionary film maker struggling to put together passion projects on a shoestring, his second film was Elf, but nonetheless I can see the attraction of directing this film after a decade immersed in studio lead special effects pics.
In fact it seems that real message here is one for the critics not the film companies. On two occasions we see the protagonist rant at the blogger who slammed him. The points coming out of Favreau’s mouth are very clear; people who write about his art do not understand the work that goes into what he creates. They do not build, they just destroy and when they pen something damning and personal it hurts.
No ambiguity there. It is interesting that many of the blog posts that go viral are the angry and insulting ones (more on this here: https://notlefthandedfilmguide.co.uk/2013/12/29/what-do-i-need-to-do-to-go-viral-round-here/) While this sort of thing can be funny and gets the authors a lot of attention, there is often someone at the end of it who gets stung. Writing about an art form should always be about deepening your relationship with the thing you love and not about bullying the person who makes stuff you don’t like. I hope that comes across in the stuff I write and when John Favreau inevitably reads this I hope he agrees. (Hey John, I love your movie! Leave me a comment in the box.)
Chef certainly represents a step forward for Favreau, as both an actor and a director, showing a more passionate side to him than we have seen previously. Iron Man was funny but this is properly feel good, in a quite old fashioned way. There is real pleasure in seeing this man rediscovering his mojo and finding a way of sharing this with his ten year old boy.
Along for the ride is John Leguizamo, himself probably pleased to be in a high profile project that doesn’t involve him voicing of a Pleistocene sloth. As well as R.D Jnr, Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman also turn up briefly but the other key cast member is Sofia Vergara. This is a good role for her, letting her demonstrate better acting than her caricature performances in Machete Kills and The Smurfs allowed (two more disparate films you could not find). She is great in the TV series Modern Family but again, no need for great emoting there so this film could well prove an important stepping stone for her career too.
The likelihood is though that it won’t be her or Favreau or the cute kid that you come away from this film remembering. The real star here is quite possibly the food.
There have been two films in the past that have made me feel really hungry. The first was Big Night and the second was Waitress. If you’ve missed either of those films, I strongly suggest you watch them but not on an empty stomach. What those films did for pasta and pies respectively, this film does for cuts of prime beef and pork. Perhaps not one for the vegetarians then but if you are one of the many people who really appreciate a good steak or love your bacon then expect to get no satisfaction following this film until you have bitten into something medium rare. I was hankering after a good piece of sirloin just after seeing the trailer and yesterday evening while at an open air gig, 24 hours after seeing Chef, I queued for forty five minutes at the barbecue stand even though the fish & chip line was much shorter.
The Ripley Factor:
Q. Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men?
A. A little bit.
Q. Are the women in the film believable as real people?
A. Yes, very much so.
Q. Are women objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film?
Q. Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism?
A. Again, perhaps a little.
Two out of four then. Johansson as the colleague and previous lover and Vergara as the ex-wife are both just there as part of Casper’s story and to spur him on. That said, they are both free minded and the latter sets a lot of the action going. It is a male heavy film and several of the characters could easily have been female without it making much difference but sometimes guys spend time doing stuff with other guys and that’s okay.
Is this one for the kids?
The film is rated 15 for strong language and sex references but there is no nudity or violence. I would say it is fine for any teenager if you know they’ll be okay with a little bit of bad language.