Review By: Nathan Ligon
Director Jon Favreau got his big start on the indie scene way back in 1996 with the extremely clever comedy Swingers. He followed that fantastic little film up with another relationship comedy called Made and cemented himself as one of the most talented young directors of the 90’s. Then for the last decade and half he has fallen into the trap of big budget Hollywood filmmaking. That’s not to say that he started making bad movies or anything (Zathura, Iron Man, Elf, and the rest were all really good), it just took him away from the character based comedy he was so brilliant at.
Which is why I am so happy to write that his latest film, Chef, is a triumphant return to what Favreau does best, but with the maturity that comes with age. There are still plenty of R rated jokes here. Yet, the thing that really makes this film such a good time is it’s understanding of life, fatherhood, and the love we can find in the thing we choose to do as a career. That thing here is cooking, and no movie has ever made it look so alluring. There are moments in this movie that may make you want to leave the theater and find the nearest 5 star restaurant, food truck, or kitchen with ingredients to cook a delicious dish. Either that or you will just be left starving the whole movie like I was.
The plot here is the weakest part of the film. The basic conceit is that Favreau is a chef named Carl Casper and he is one of the premiere cooks in Los Angeles. Sadly, this busy career of his has taken over his life, led to a divorce, and caused him to disconnect with his son. His ex-wife keeps telling him that he would be happier if he just got a food truck and cooked what he wants to cook, but he won’t have anything to do with it. He is a 5 star chef and he’s not going to slum it as a food truck cook.
At least, he thinks he won’t to slum it until a food critic comes in and rips his livelihood apart. This puts him in a position where he is forced to find another job and rethink his priorities. Most important of those priorities is being there for his son, but the second most important is getting back to the basics of cooking by getting that food truck that we all knew he was going to get within the first 5 minutes of the movie. What follows is a funny road trip movie that could have been a pretty standard affair, but manages to be much more.
If you were to just read over the synopsis for this movie you might think that it is a pretty cookie cutter film. It is filled with a number of cliche’ plot developments and predictable pay offs, but I can guarantee that most of you will have no problem with that. These characters are too likable and the dialogue is too good for you to spend much time harping over little things. Favreau has long had a knack for witty and fast paced dialogue. So, that element comes as no surprise. He has also done family films with loads of sentimentality. So, the fact that he can pull that off is not surprising either. It’s just nice to see him utilize everything he has learned from making movies for younger audiences and mix that with the adult humor he got his start with.
You throw in a dash of reality to all this filmmaking prowess and you got yourself a good little movie that truly celebrates life in a way. It also doesn’t hurt that he has cast Scarlett Johansson, Sofia Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., and john Leguizamo to fill out the fine cast of characters. I especially liked Leguizamo’s character, Marvin. The scene where he leads them all to place corn starch on their balls because it’s humid outside is absolutely hilarious. So, this movie is not perfect, but what movie really is.
In stores on Tuesday, September 30.