Written, directed, and starring, Jon Favreau, Chef is the 2014 film that could and did make the world fall in love with the food and the man who brought this small budget independent film to life. Proving that a film with no violence, sex or explosive action could be a hit, the Iron Man, and Cowboys and Aliens director showed that a film about a “cook” was profitable and enjoyable.
Starring Scarlett Johansson,Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale,John Leguizamo, new actor Emjay Anthony (with a cameo from Robert Downey Jr) the film follows Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) who inadvertently gets into a Twitter fight with food critic Ramsey Michel (Platt). The feud escalates until Casper accosts Michel in Riva’s (Hoffman) restaurant and the event goes viral on YouTube. The chef leaves the restaurant and on his ex-wife Inez’s (Vergara) advice takes on running a food truck.
The film follows Casper’s journey to rediscover his self respect, his relationship with his son and his ex-wife. The movie could be called a combination of travelogue and social media training film. Part of the film’s plot deals heavily with Twitter, and a little with Facebook, Vine and YouTube. The brilliant young actor Emjay Anthony’s character, Percy who is Casper’s son, is a wizard on the sites and uses his social media know-how to help his dad get business.
After a few hiccups, Percy and Casper clean up a junked out food truck, financed by Inez’s ex-husband Marvin (Downey Jr.) and Carl’s old Sous Chef Martin (Leguizamo) from Riva’s joins him. The three get the van up and running and they travel back to Los Angeles from Miami and stop at several landmark cities along the way.
It is virtually impossible to watch this film and not feel the compulsion to drool at the screen while Casper, Martin and Percy cook up Cubanos sandwiches. Favreau hired food truck chef Roy Choi to provide technical guidance and consultant. At the end of the credits Choi is seen showing Favreau how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
The film works so well, in the food department, that it almost seems like a documentary instead of a movie. (There is one moment where Favreau’s character calls and talks to an agent who wants him to do reality TV, and appear on Hell’s Kitchen, “Like Honey Boo Boo?” says a horrified Casper.)
While watching the movie could well result in the viewer helplessly craving Cuban food, or beignets, not to mention stifling the urge to get up and dance to that addictive music, it is the acting that sells this film. From Favreau to the tiny cameos from Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr. (Kudos to the Iron Man star for reminding us of those days when he played douche bags so brilliantly, in case fans have forgotten check out Weird Science, his high school character was such a jerk. Of course it could be argued that as Tony Stark, his character’s have changed very little…)
Chef may not be 2014’s answer to the 1981 film On Golden Pond, another non-violent, no sex film that entertained brilliantly but it hits the spot. Favreau pulls off the cooking in the film and his costars all perform admirably. Kudos to Hoffman as the snotty restauranteur and Oliver Platt as the food critic is just brilliant.
The biggest surprise is the youngster who plays Casper’s son Percy. Emjay Anthony sells it 100 percent and makes the boy believable. When Percy interacts with Carl it feels natural and true, they help to bind the ingredients of the film in a real and lovely way.
A quick word about the film’s score.
That is all, just…magic, like the film.
With no car chases, no gratuitous violence and no nudity, there could be many who would give Chef a pass, but the box office returns proves that many were ready for a film about food and family. This is a real 6 out of 5 stars, the math may not add up, but honestly this is a brilliant feel-good film not to be missed. Streaming on US Netflix right now, put on your bib and feel free to drool at the food while enjoying the scenery and the performances.