A veteran chef faces off against his restaurant group’s new CEO, who wants to the establishment to lose a star from its rating in order to bring in a younger chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy.
“Le Chef” is that rare gem of a movie that towers above the competition in every facet. It has drama, humor, love and food. What more could you ask for? Oh yeah, it also has Jean Reno so that there should be the end of my review but I will digress. In “Le Chef”, Mr. Reno plays Alexandre Lagarde, a veteran chef whose restaurant’s CEO Stanislas (Julien Boisselier), wants Lagarde to lose a star from its rating so that he can bring in a younger chef who is adept in molecular gastronomy. Lagarde is old school and he is one of the most respected chefs in France with people coming from all over, just to order from his menu. Jacky Bonnot (Michaël Youn) is a young chef who can’t keep a job in any eatery because he is a perfectionist and insists on food being cooked his way or no way. Lagarde is his inspiration and he knows all of his recipes.
With his girlfriend Béatrice (Raphaëlle Agogué) nearing the end of her pregnancy, he takes a job as a painter at an old folks home to make ends meet. When he passes by the kitchen one day, he interjects himself and shows the three chefs how to change things up. Alexandre is visiting his friend Paul (Pierre Vernier) and tells him about Stanislas, who just happens to be Paul’s son. He informs him about Stanislas’ plans to bring in food critics that he feels will be coaxed by him to give the restaurant and its food a bad rating, thereby losing one of its stars at which point, Alexandre can technically be fired. Paul insists that Alexandre taste the soup from the kitchen and when he does, he is absolutely astounded at how good it tastes.
Paul tells him that Jacky cooked it at which point, Alexandre offers him a job at the restaurant. He agrees and while Alexandre may be the man in charge, Jacky conflicts with him on a daily basis because he is unwilling to change any of his recipes for any reason whatsoever. Alexandre is stuck in, what Jacky calls, a “cuisine rut”, but slowly, the two men come to respect each other and realize with only days to go before the critics are brought in, they must trust in each other in order to keep the restaurant’s three stars and Alexandre’s reputation intact. What I loved about this movie, was that it was a throwback to the lighthearted comedies of yesterday where the good guys overcame whatever obstacles were laid down in front of them and the bad guys got their comeuppance. For Jacky, food is his life.
When he leaves his painting job to work at Alexandre’s restaurant, initially he is brought on as an unpaid intern and he hides this fact from Béatrice as he doesn’t want to upset her but when she finds out, she leaves him. Later on, he and Alexandre make their way to her parents’ hometown of Nevers where she is staying and with Jacky being drunk, things don’t go according to plan but we know that Jacky is a good guy and that love will prevail. We also see the toughened facade of Alexandre melt away when he meets Carole (Rebecca Miquel), the owner of a small restaurant in Nevers and falls head over heels for her. Mr. Youn is eerily remindful of a younger Roberto Benigni but thankfully, without Mr. Benigni’s intermittent eccentric behavior.
I find that too many filmmakers today, feel that they’re not allowed to give audiences a happy ending any more. Everything today is grounded in gritty realism and for the most part, too many films kill off or destroy the protagonist because it’s supposedly more realistic than a tacked-on happy ending. If you set out to tell a lively and frothy story, then the audience will expect a happy ending and personally, I would like to see more of them and less of the so-called unflinching and indomitable endings we have come to expect. “Le Chef” completely took me by surprise and pleasantly so. It’s got some unavoidable drama but it is also lighthearted and shows what people can achieve when they work together and listen to each other. This film is pure joy and I would very highly recommend it.
In select theaters and at the Angelika Dallas now
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