Posted by: ckckred | June 16, 2014

Chef

Chef-Movie-Still-2

I re-watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi a few days before I saw Chef, Jon Favreau’s ode to food and its makers. While these films are certainly different in dish style and form (Jiro’s a documentary), they both focus on the chefs’ love of food. Jiro is about an eponymous sushi chef known for his perfectionism while Chef is about Carl Casper (Favreau), a man so devoted to his food his risks his career and integrity. From the outside, Chef looks like a tasty meal and its first bite is sweet and delectable. But after digging your teeth deeper, Chef loses its flavor and becomes stiff, stale, and generic, the same stuff we’ve tried before.

But enough with the food metaphors (there will be more). Casper, a famous Los Angeles chef, loves cooking but finds himself continuously disappointed with his job and life. He continuously butts heads with his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who wants Carl to stick with a traditional menu instead of experimental, avant-garde food. He also has a hard time connecting with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and his ex-wife Inez (Sofía Vergara). After fighting with a blogger critic (Oliver Platt), which goes viral over the Internet, Carl quits his job and starts a food truck selling traditional Cuban barbeque. He takes a cross-country trip with his best friend and fellow chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and Percy to promote his job.

Chef is at its tastiest when it focuses on the cooking aspect. Favreau spends much of the movie on his character making food, which makes for many of the movie’s highlights. Moments where Carl makes complex dishes from tenderloin steaks and chicken to even simpler food like grilled cheese sandwiches are mouthwatering (helped by the close-ups and jump cuts Favreau uses in these scenes). The intense labor Carl takes into cooking shows his passion towards his career: even when he gathers food and equipment for his food truck do we realize how much he loves being a chef.

But while the first hour or so is buoyant, Chef falls apart afterwards. Characters played by Scarlett Johansson and Bobby Cannavale are quickly dismissed and disappear in the second half while the road trip is utterly predictable, focusing on the father-son bond between Carl and Percy. Even the conflict in Chef is minimal: problems are resolved quickly and the ending ties up all the loose ends in a manner that feels disjointed from the rest of the film. It’s as if Chef was supposed to have an extra thirty minutes that got scratched from the movie at the last second.

It’s a shame since Chef is very funny throughout and the banter between Favreau and Leguizamo is quite good (not to mention Robert Downey Jr.’s cameo, which is the movie’s best scene). If only Chef had some stronger foundation to keep it standing tall on the dinner table.

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Responses

  1. One to check out then once it is out on DVD, Favreau can be funny so I expect I will quite enjoy it.

    • It’s worth a rental. I had high hopes but I was pretty disappointed. I felt Favreau could have made a much better movie than the final result.

  2. Love this movie. Looking forward to going back with my wife and daughter to see cause I know they’ll enjoy it.

    • I really enjoyed the first thirty minutes but once the road trip part started, the movie fell in stock for me. It was very funny in parts.

  3. This film is an oasis in a summer of blockbusters and sequels. Loved it.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it but I thought it was a big disappointment. The movie had so much potential in the beginning but treads familiar ground.

  4. Nice review. I just can’t get interested in this one. Sadly it sounds like it can’t keep its footing for the whole running time.

    • Thanks! I think Chef would be a lot better if there was actually more footage since there’s not enough to support the entire movie. For shame since it starts very well.

  5. It feels like this has come out of nowhere. I hadn’t even heard of it until recently; possibly because I’ve pretty much tuned out what Fav’s been up to. Still, this looks alright!

    • I heard about Chef a week before it came out in theaters and was excited after reading initial reviews. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment for me and the pacing was just too clunky.

  6. I’ve heard similar comments about Chef being that it’s lacking conflict. I love to cook, so maybe watching people cooking would satisfy me ;)

    • If you love cooking, there’s a lot to like with Chef (the baking scenes are really superb). Too bad there’s not a strong enough plot to carry them.

  7. It’s a joy to watch Favreau having fun with something again. And it’s even more of a joy to watch all of his talented friends join in on it as well. Good review.

    • Thanks! This is definitely a passion project for Favreau and throughout the first half I really enjoyed the movie. But by the ending, it kind of fell apart.

  8. I might give this a go on DVD too. It’s something a little bit different and I quite like Favreau. A shame some of those other actors you mention aren’t in it for longer.

    • Seeing it on DVD or cable’s a good idea. It really is a shame that many of the cast members are underutilized (I suspect that Johansson and Cannavale had other commitments which is why they disappeared in the second half). Too bad because Chef had a lot of potential.

  9. Great review w/ fun food metaphors :) “Chef is at its tastiest when it focuses on the cooking aspect.” I kind of figured that, a lot of cooking movies are that way I think (tho I like Julie & Julia a lot).

    • Thanks and I’m glad you liked my food puns; I thought I went a bit overboard with them. Chef’s really good during the cooking scenes but elsewhere feels like sloppy seconds.

  10. Just stumbled onto your blog and already I enjoy it. I really like this review as well :)
    Feel free to check out my blog http://filmtruthsblog.wordpress.com/ :)


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