- on Friday, 16 May 2014 16:32
- by Frank Wilkins
In a pleasant little case of art imitating life, filmmaker Jon Favreau leaves the world of big-budget extravaganzas to return to his indie roots with Chef, a film in which he stars, directs, and writes about a celebrated chef who exits his high profile job at a popular Los Angeles eatery to rediscover his creativity and love for cooking.
Breezy, simple, and poignant, Chef feels cathartic, almost like a jabbing response in a way, for the director of such heavyweight studio tentpoles as Elf, Iron Man, and Cowboys and Aliens who saw an opportunity to tell an affectionate little story – without studio intervention – about a flawed hero in which his characters can speak in the voices he gives them. Sure, it’s not exactly an insightful observation to pick up on the correlation between Favreau’s career and his latest film, but it is nice to see his enthusiasm, once again, become the star of the show.
And his enthusiasm this time is for food. Favreau is Carl Casper, a once-promising Miami chef who now runs the kitchen at a trendy Brentwood restaurant. We learn that creatively, he’s running on empty and his personal life isn’t much better as he’s now divorced and disconnected from his 11-year-old son.
Many of the film’s opening shots are intimate close-ups of Carl’s culinary handiwork in which he deftly chops, dices, and expertly creates mini gastronomic masterpieces before our eyes. If his creations aren’t some of the film’s most interesting characters in and of themselves (namely the Cuban sandwich), they are certainly given as much attention, hypnotizing our taste buds as Chef Carl lovingly curates and savors every ingredient.
When Carl learns that popular food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) is coming to review the restaurant, he plans to dazzle the critic with a new menu. But the restaurant’s stodgy owner (Dustin Hoffman) begins to exert control over the menu by demanding Carl “play the hits” with the same, safe “meat and potatoes” dishes that have filled seats night after night for years.
Disappointed at the meal’s lack of creativity, Ramsey naturally turns in a scathing review which leads to a public spat between the critic and chef that quickly goes viral on YouTube. With a once-illustrious career that has since been reduced to an internet punch line, Carl find himself broke, jobless, and out-of-sorts.
Following the suggestion of his wealthy ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), Carl eventually accepts her offer of a beat-up food truck which he, along with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and long-time line cook Martin (John Leguizamo), uses to start up his own rolling kitchen from which they offer their mouthwatering take on the Cuban sandwich. Chef becomes a road trip movie as the trio treks from Miami back to L.A. making memorable stops in such culinary hotspots as New Orleans and Austin which Carl uses to reconnect with his passion for cooking as well as with his son.
Chef’s overall lack of deep conflict is initially a bit disconcerting as we sit in a cautious state of anticipation, waiting for something bad to happen. But its non-conventional structure soon becomes its most endearing asset. What little conflict there is feels more like a gentle life lesson rather than anything life-altering. And whereas most three-act films tend to mire the hero in crushing defeat right before its triumphant closing act, Chef opens down and out in a mild depression, then carries us on a gentle upward-sloping track where everyone – including us – gradually grows happier.
Chef is a delightful little tale that gently prioritizes freedom, opportunity, and love of family over money and prestige. It’s good to have Favreau searching for a fresh start as he reminds us, through his Carl, that he can make life’s most simple moments as grand as its most spectacular.
MPAA Rating: R for language, including some suggestive references.
Runtime: 115 mins
Director: Jon Favreau
Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson
Tagline: Starting from scratch never tasted so good..
Memorable Movie Quote: "Now suddenyl you're going to be an artist. Well be an artist on your own time."
Distributor: Open Road Films
Release Date: May 15, 2014 (limited)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: September 30, 2014
Synopsis: When Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what's next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son to launch a food truck. Taking to the road, Chef Carl goes back to his roots to reignite his passion for the kitchen - and zest for life and love.
Available on Blu-ray - September 30, 2014
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; iTunes digital copy; DVD copy
Region Encoding: A
Presented from Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Chef is a feast for the senses. The 1080p AVC picture is terrific with a rich, warm and natural color palette that is nicely saturated. At times colors pop and hues are vibrant with strong primaries. Fleshtones are naturally rendered throughout. Contrast is well balanced with deep, solid blacks and revealing shadow delineation. Resolution is revealing of fine detail exhibited in close-ups of foods and ingredients, facial features, hair, clothing, and object texture. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel soundtrack is basically monaural focused, even atmospherics. There are short segments of sound effects that provide a bit of dynamic energy. Dialogue is naturally presented with decent spatial integration. This is, overall, a damn fine release from Universal.
- Offering an equally rich experience is the commentary from Writer/Director Jon Favreau and Co-Producer Roy Choi. The exchange is informative and well worth your time being, at times, very funny.
While there isn’t a lot of material from this quiet film, the bonus features are adequate. There are seven deleted scenes that fill in a bit more of the narrative and upfront previews, and an UltraViolet digital copy.
- Deleted Scenes (10 min)