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Review: Chef

chef-movie-poster-2014Tom Munday

4/5

At the annual SXSW film festival, movies can either rise spectacularly or descend into the critical doldrums. Audience reactions aside, the critics’ word at this festival charts the oncoming year in cinema. Telegraphing cinematic treasures and miserable bombs, writer/director/producer/star Jon Favreau must have waited with baited breath as his film played to the raucous SXSW crowd.

Thankfully, he has nothing to worry about. His latest endeavour, Chef, hurls Favreau back into the spotlight. Favreau, known primarily for directing the first two Iron Man features, kicked off his career from humble beginnings. Credited for writing Made and Swingers, this public figure is more suited to indie fare. Despite its excessive length, his latest movie is an enjoyable and sumptuous dramedy.

With Chef, Favreau returns to his roots. Falling back in love with the cinematic medium, his latest adventure touches upon life’s most delicious conceits. Delving into a celebrated profession, Chef delivers an insistent, and sometimes hilarious, commentary on food, relationships, and mid-life crises. The movie, deserving of a significant worldwide release, touches upon its own predicament.

Favreau directs, writes, and stars in this tale of food, love, and chaos. Here, he plays enthusiastic head chef Carl Casper. Casper, failing to escape his kitchen’s confines, has lost touch with creativity and vitality. Casper, once seen as the cornerstone of California’s food scene, is pressured by the restaurant’s insistent owner (Dustin Hoffman) to stick to the classics. Frustrated by his lack of happiness and spice, this chef fails to properly lead his team.

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Overlooking support from his fellow chefs (two of which played by John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale), the irritable Casper longs to experiment with the culinary arts. After a prestigious food critic (Oliver Platt) savages Casper’s work, his temper descends into pure hatred. After a public spat goes viral, his reputation is all but sliced, zested, and grated simultaneously.

After receiving advice from the restaurant’s bartender/lead waitress Molly (Scarlett Johansson), Casper hits the road with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony). Acquiring a grimy, dilapidated food truck, Casper and Percy clean up and service the beaten down truck. The truck, renamed El Jefe Cubanos, hits the road and hurriedly becomes a social media icon.

Here, Favreau comments on his professional life. Examining his more recent career turns, the underrated filmmaker, returning to a more modest form of filmmaking, develops a hearty, profound, and witty dramedy here. Here, literally and figuratively, Favreau utilises quality produce and develops a mouth-watering product. His intelligent analysis of the Hollywood studio system is neither reassuring nor condescending. However, the movie’s social media angle is jarring when compared to the messages. Using Twitter to fuel the movie’s conflict, this light-hearted road trip dramedy occasionally ventures into self-indulgence.

Favreau, having caught flack for polarising blockbusters like Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, looks back on his greatest achievements and awkward failings. With the Iron Man franchise now in Marvel and Shane Black’s hands, Favreau is given time to reflect. Here, his agenda suits this touching and tangible narrative. Here, the hard-working filmmaker can focus on dialogue, genre tropes, and favourable actors.

Despite its commendable intentions and entertaining sequences, this organic dramedy looks down upon critics. With Platt’s character coming off as a disgracefully vindictive caricature, this false note leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Free from studio interference, Favreau’s self-aware gaze boosts this eclectic dramedy. Fusing Alexander Payne and Woody Allen’s flourishes, Favreau provides comfort food without blatantly borrowing flavours and techniques.

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Overcoming the movie’s minor obstacles, Favreau’s infatuation with the subject matter is simply jaw-dropping. Cooking up one storm after another, Favreau’s creations are fuelled by delightful colours, wondrous designs, and an attention to detail. These dishes, illustrating this character’s devotion to his craft, almost waft through the screen. Do yourself a favour – don’t see Chef on an empty stomach.

The movie, switching from broad kitchen drama to charming road-trip comedy, delves into deep-seeded emotions and ideas. Favreau’s immaculate talents are sprinkled into every scene. Guided by Favreau throughout the arduous production process, the movie’s sense of humour, attention to detail, and heartwarming tale deliver a winning journey through America’s most delectable places. Travelling across Texas, Florida, and California, these states offer the world’s most alluring fusion dishes.

Like with Faveau’s previous efforts, the characters and performances cap off this delicious and perplexing meal. Like a perfect creme brûlée, the movie’s affable performers appear effortlessly fluffy and smooth. Favreau, despite handing himself love interests like Johansson and Vergara, is a charismatic force as the angry, and anger-inducing, lead character. Supported by Leguizamo and Cannavale’s amicable turns, Favreau’s hearty performance elevates every scene.

Fortunately, the supporting roles entertain but never overshadow. Developing a significant amount of chemistry with Favreau, Johansson, with this charming role, takes a break from blockbusters. Hoffman’s character, representing the studio executive, still has a valuable point to prove. In his minuscule role, Hoffman’s distinctive tones underline the movie’s motivations and messages. Graciously, Chef even throws in a hilarious cameo by one of Favreau’s favourites.

Pitching itself as a return to form for its determined director/writer/star, Chef delivers a lively and salient comparison between America’s high-minded food scene and Hollywood’s moviemaking politics. Despite strongly backing his own stance on critics and executives, Favreau’s talents and endless charm boost this honest and amicable dramedy. Like Ratatouille and Sideways, Chef proves that anyone, no matter what their specialties are, can add flavour to their lives.

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