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.