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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Chef movie review: very tasty

Chef green light

Jon Favreau’s midlife artistic crisis rendered as food porn. This is funny, poignant, and wise, though the wish-fulfillment romantic fantasy of it is a tad much to take.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I think Jon Favreau is trying to tell us that he’s tired of constructing giant Iron Man blockbusters and wants to go back to making little movies like Made and Swingers. Cuz this delightful film, as funny as it is poignant, is clearly the writer and director’s midlife artistic crisis rendered as food porn.

Carl Casper (Favreau: The Wolf of Wall Street, Identity Thief) is a chef at an upscale Los Angeles eatery where the owner (Dustin Hoffman: Kung Fu Panda 2, Little Fockers) refuses to let him be the inventive crafter of unusual yum-yums that he was supposedly hired to be, even to the point of insisting that when respected critic and food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt: The Oranges, Love and Other Drugs) is coming for a meal that he be served the exact same meal he ate the last time. The night ends in disaster and then gets worse when Carl, a Twitter newbie, ends up accidentally starting a flame war with Michel. (This movie gets the Internet better than almost any other: Twitter is a major player and driver of plot.) In a fit of frustrated pique, Carl quits the restaurant and — for reasons too complicated to explain but which make perfect sense — ends up in Miami, the new owner of an old, beat-up food truck, and about to embark on a crosscountry drive back to L.A., with stops along the way to share with urban hipster foodies the incredibly delicious Cuban sandwiches he is now producing.

One marvelous thing about Chef is that Favreau does manage to convey — even in the aroma- and flavor-blind medium of cinema — the drool-worthiness of Carl’s food; don’t eat before you see this, because you will be compelled to put something tasty in your mouth afterward. Even better, though, is the honest, wise urgency that Favreau injects into Carl’s plight: independence and free reign is essential to fostering creativity, not to mention to maintaining the sanity of an artist, and that risk-taking is essential, if terrifying, in all things creative.

Luckily for Carl, his risk-taking pays off — this is not a matter of suspense but inevitability — and if there’s a certain element of fantasy in that, well, that’s only on top of the other fantasy here, in the romantic wish-fulfillment Favreau clearly has no shame in injecting: plain Carl is dripping with supersexy women who are attracted to him: Sofía Vergara (Fading Gigolo, Machete Kills) as Carl’s ex, who is clearly still in love with him, and Scarlett Johansson (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Her) as the L.A. restaurant’s hostess, for whom Carl sexy-cooks a meal. (For those of us who prefer dudes, there are amusing supporting performances by Bobby Cannavale [Movie 43, The Other Guys] and John Leguizamo [Walking with Dinosaurs: The 3D Movie, The Counsellor] and a hilarious one-scene cameo by Robert Downey Jr. [Iron Man 3, The Avengers])

It’s Favreau’s fantasy — we are only along for the ride. At least he makes a tasty meal of it for us.


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Chef (2014)
US/Can release: May 09 2014
UK/Ire release: Jun 25 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated FP (contains food porn)
MPAA: rated R for language, including some suggestive references
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, moderate sex references)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    Looks interesting. The negative comment I’ve seen has been about the kid, whom you don’t mention; any thoughts, or did he not really obtrude himself into the cinematic experience to a degree worth mentioning?

  • The kid is fine as an actor, and the character is not a problem. Might have been nice if the son were a daughter instead, because the film is pretty male dominated for no good reason.

  • 37 Pieces Of Ric Flair

    Should have starred a woman chef. Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef feature far more talented women than men, and reap high ratings in the States for it. I can’t stand sitting through films I know would be infinitely more interesting if the protagonist were a woman. I don’t know what I’d do if it were required of me as my job. Eventually all of my reviews would begin, “Yet another tale of a male….”

  • This is a very personal movie for Favreau (who isn’t just star but writer and director), so it is wildly unlikely that he would ever have cast anyone other than himself.

    This is why we need more women making movies: so they can tell their personal stories, too.

  • 37 Pieces Of Ric Flair

    Agreed. I like him a lot so definitely not dissing him on a personal level. I am studying to be a chef (with a secret dream of having the world’s best food truck, ha), so on one hand I would kind of love if the lead were a woman, on the other hand I am happy to see a film about culinary angst, period. :)

  • Culinary angst. That’s awesome. :->

  • rainman19

    Gotta push back. The movie relationship between father and son is major wish fulfillment for any male age 10-99 who didn’t have most of that from son-to-father and/or father-to-son. Often both. That covers a majority of men, so it should be added to the finale’s wish fulfillment for any child of divorce. Good scripting say I.

  • Danielm80

    That’s lovely. Some of my favorite cheesy ’70s songs are about fathers and sons: “Cat’s in the Cradle,” “Father and Son.” But about 70% of the movies in theatres are about men, so it would be nice to see something unexpected from time to time, like a father and daughter, or even a female chef.

  • Yes, and movies are *never* about male wish-fulfillment. Thank god we have this movie to bring some much-needed balance.

  • rainman19

    Oh, its personal. Noted. So sorry.

    Father-to-pre-teen son bonding is rare enough in movies that this had positive novelty. That’s not just me, check rottentomatoes and boxofficemojo.

    Unless you follow “37 pieces of Ric Flair” and also swap gender of Chef; the little girl becomes the star/princess-of-the-grill instead of a supporting character, and it’s a totally different movie. The only way to keep a cute little girl from stealing the entire movie is with more appealing older woman/mom (with or without the corn starch beat ).

    But the more I think about a mom-daughter-re-bonding, food-porn road-trip movie, the more I like it. You should do a treatment, vet it here, then circulate it.

  • So, a little boy gets to be an actual person, but a little girl by definition is nothing more than a “cute” “princess”?

    *This* attitude is *precisely* is why we need more movies about preteen girls.

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