Chef: Pass the Cornstarch
I currently live about two hours outside New York City, and Jon Favreau’s Chef has only been released in New York and LA. Thus, I spent my Thursday making the trip to New York, and I must say, it was worth it. If you’re a foodie, go see this film. If you love a good road trip movie, go see the film. If you have a heart, go see Chef. I’m not saying it is perfect, but with anything wonderful will come a few flaws. Chef is fresh and honest, a film that is so relatable even if your culinary prowess ends at microwaving ramen noodles. (Like me!) While the food, of course, plays an important role, the story isn’t so much about creating delectable cuisine, but encourages us to remember the truly important aspects of life.
The film starts out with the 90s disappointing dad storyline: divorced dad is too busy at work to pay attention to his kid. However, it is clear that Carl (Jon Favreau) cares about his son immensely; he just doesn’t know how to balance his love for his job and time for his family. He is creatively stifled at work by his rigid boss (Dustin Hoffman), and after a scathing review by a well-respected food critic (Oliver Platt), Carl has a meltdown at the restaurant. So starts a journey of enlightenment for Carl, a journey I can wholeheartedly relate to. Carl says something in the film that I was so surprised to hear because I had recently said the same thing, almost word for word. I have always known what I want to do with my life, I’ve always known what my next step would be, but I have reached a point where I don’t know which way to turn. So many of us know how this feels. It is the unknown that frightens us, more than difficult choices, and I think Chef deals with this in an exceptionally honest way. Once Carl finds his passion – with the help of his son, best friend, ex-wife and even her ex-husband – he is able to reconnect with all the important aspects of his life he had pushed aside.
We live in a world of technology: fast paced, short attention spans, looking through the lenses of cameras instead of those in our eyes. A negative spin has been put on our social media culture. Kids these days would rather spend all their time behind a computer than talking with their friends. While I agree with this to a point, Chef takes a different view. This story is one for the 21st century, and heavily relies on social media to tell it. Percy (Emjay Anthony) is Carl’s tech savvy, ten year old son, and through the use of Twitter, Facebook and Vine, is able to connect with his father and make the El Jefe food truck a huge success. Toward the end of the film, Carl watches a video, created by his son, of all the moments of their trip together: a video scrapbook, if you will. Without this video, the end might have turned out differently. Chef successfully preaches about the power of social media, the good and the bad.
Besides story, I think it is necessary to note the marvelous production quality. Seeing that Twitter plays a large role in the film, I really appreciate the fact that I didn’t have to stare at the screen of a tablet or phone every time a tweet was sent. In post-production, tweets were added on screen, and the Twitter bird even flew away once the tweet was sent. That’s definitely something I haven’t seen before. Although the editing toward the beginning comes off slightly rough, as the film progresses, the editing improves. On the road trip, social media is used in montage form for quite an impressive sequence. The soundtrack is even fun and fresh.
Speaking of fresh, Sofía Vergara’s portrayal of Carl’s ex-wife, Inez, is something new and exciting to see. Up until this point, I didn’t know if Vergara was capable of playing anything other than the comic, charming, Gloria from Modern Family. I am happy to say, she most definitely can. Although she does not have a large amount of screen time, when she is on screen, she commands attention (and not just for being beautiful). The same goes for the incomparable Robert Downey Jr. RDJ is as charming as ever, but I’m afraid he brought a bit too much Tony Stark into this character. Even so, the one scene he is in made me laugh out loud. As far as Favreau as an actor, he isn’t bad. I never found myself distracted by poor acting. That being said, his strengths are far greater in writing, and even more so, directing. The actor I find myself most impressed with, however, is Emjay Anthony. For an 11 year old, he knows how to take command of a scene. He plays Percy in a realistic and honest way, never contrived.
I know I have raved quite a bit about the film, but I do have a few qualms. First, the meltdown. When Carl loses his mind in the restaurant, he says a whole lotta nothing. I did appreciate the fact that he calls out the critic for only knowing how to criticize, but it is clear that most of the rant is adlibbed. That is a pivotal moment where the writing needed to clearly state how Carl truly felt. I also don’t believe for a second that after a terrible review, and knowing the same critic is coming in again, that the owner would allow him to be served the same meal. That just makes no sense. Lastly, Carl’s best friend decides to up and quit his job after just being promoted to sous chef. He immediately flies to Miami to surprise Carl. The moment he arrives is so anticlimactic. He just gave up a huge opportunity at a well-respected restaurant, and nothing is really made of the moment. Sure, this could also just be my female perspective talking. Maybe “bros” just have more of an unsaid understanding.
I cannot recommend Chef highly enough. I drove four hours round trip to see this film, so if you only have to drive 30 min, you have no excuse! Go see it. It is a light-hearted story that is rare to find these days in an industry of The Dark Knight and True Detective. Of course, those are impressive works. However, if you’re tired of the cynicism, Chef is the perfect film to see to start the summer movie season off right.
Opened (limited) in the US:
May 9, 2014
Run Time 1:55
- Chef (2014) - Fandango
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- Chef (2014) - IMDb
Directed by Jon Favreau. With Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman. A chef who loses his restaurant job starts up a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing back together his estranged famil