Jon Favreau is the epitome of the hit and miss director. For every Iron Man, there’s an Iron Man 2. For every Elf, there’s a Cowboys and Aliens. He’s a cracking writer, director and actor that’s exploding with talent and imagination but sometimes they land and sometimes they don’t. This brings Chef, which is being regarded as his pet project. After a decade of big budget, heavy-on-special-effects, blockbusters and fantasy fair, it is as charming as they come. Favreau delivers a wonderfully funny film about father and son bonding, talent and passion that has heart in abundance.
Favreau directs and stars as Carl Casper, a celebrated chef at a swanky Los Angeles restaurant, whose creativity and integrity is compromised by the restaurant's controlling owner. After a video of him losing his temper at a food critic goes viral he becomes not only unemployed, but unemployable. With his reputation in shreds, he decides to get back in touch with his roots by opening a food truck and taking it – along with line cook and son - on the road, rediscovering his passion along the way.
The use of technology is the most I've seen in any contemporary movie, and though a lesser director might have thought to temper it down a little, Favreau actually ups the tempo with it, completely embracing it. Much like Frank, it uses Twitter very cleverly – and is basically a love letter to the positivity and social media, which is refreshing to watch.
There's commentary on social media in the form of both mockery and flattery, at once teasing the technology and touting its effectiveness. Older, disinterested Carl can't quite comprehend the details of Twitter, while his young boy doesn't understand the emotional complexities of divorce. The food critic's name is too obviously a reference to Gordon Ramsey, whose show Kitchen Nightmares famously introduced the world to an unavoidably comparable Twitter meltdown and self-imposed character assassination in the Amy's Baking Company episode. And the conclusion feels like a live-action take on Ratatouille.
The extreme lack of cinematic friction results in the plot languishing in easy going meandering; creating a pleasant, breezy, feel-good flick that has no poignancy or pathos.
The father and son aspect, although a tad cliché at times, works very well. Favreau and young actor, Emjay Anthony, have great chemistry and it’s surprisingly heartfelt between them. It’s believable – and Anthony outshines Favreau in pretty much every scene they’re in together. He’s definitely one to watch.
The film excels in finding the right beat and tempo; it shines brighter than ever before. This can be attributed in part to the charming cast and the witty script; which is a terrific treat on its own terms.
The cast manages to make it work, and this is what the film relies so heavily on that it is a godsend that
Favreau doesn't let it go stale.
There are problems, of course. The sudden disappearance of Scarlett Johansson from the narrative is another mystery that remains unsolved. In the opening portion of the film, Johansson's Molly works as a hostess at the restaurant and there is clearly a mutual attraction between her and Carl. In fact, a scene in which Molly lounges seductively while Carl prepares a meal is sexier than most love scenes, yet once Carl leaves for Miami, Molly is neither seen nor heard from again. A cynic might suggest that Johansson's inclusion, along with a somewhat strange cameo from Robert Downey Jnr as another of Inez's ex-husbands, is simply Favreau calling upon his Iron Man co-stars in an attempt to secure maximum leverage for his film with multiplex audiences. And sometimes it is hindered by its abidance to cliché’s is frustrating too. The ending in particular, was very annoying.
There's a whiff of the self-indulgent to Favreau's passion project, which winds up clocking in at just under two hours long. But it proves easy to forgive Favreau his indulgences when the resulting film is, for the most part, so sunny and full of good will.
Ultimately, Chef serves up its plot - simultaneously sweet and tart - with a generous helping of memorable characters and gentle comedy. It's a great reminder of what Favreau can do with perfectly ordinary people, trying to figure out how to get by in their perfectly ordinary world.