Starring Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Emjay Anthony, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofía Vergara
When Jon Favreau, director of the first two Iron Man films, stepped out at SXSW to open the festival with his admittedly smaller new film Chef, he said this might not be a film for everyone, but that he was so glad independent film was alive and well. The cast Favreau has assembled for a script he also wrote is a mixture of those he admires and has worked with previously, including Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr. Favreau takes the lead on this one and the film is better for it. The entire film is a metaphor for Favreau’s career, big studio films are represented by the restaurant he works in and the food truck represents indie film and a new realized since of self-discovery. If you look deeper not only is Chef one of his most entertaining but his most personal.
Chef Carl Casper doesn’t know how to use social media correctly, and when he gets into a Twitter battle with one of Los Angeles’ most well known food critics (Oliver Platt), he singlehandedly grabs the attention of the entire city. While Casper is a respected chef and now has a daily line of people trying to taste his food, Casper’s frustration with the restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) ends his reign as the head cook. Forced to get back to a place where he can cook what he wants for who he wants, Casper takes up the suggestion of a food truck with the help of his son (Anthony) and buddy (Leguizamo). They decide to make the best Cuban sandwiches and hit the road to redefine what Chef Casper is all about.
Chef is a heartwarming crowd pleaser, far more significant than his superhero past.
After covering the SXSW film festival for five years, Chef is the only film that truly captures the essence of what Austin is really about. The crowd let out a cheer when Casper’s son tweets “Get ready, Texas…” and it’s obvious they are headed to Austin. Local establishments like Franklin's BBQ are prominently featured in the film and it’s no coincidence that Favreau and the festival decided to host the film here. As a comedy, Favreau’s tone never ventures into the silly or schmaltzy on the drama side, and he keeps it and the food truck headed in the direction it needs to be. A few times I wondered if the film wanted to be about a middle aged man rediscovering his passion or a father son film, but Favreau suggests he is and can be both.
The food really becomes one of the characters. Don’t go into this hungry or you will be salivating at the delicious and delectable items Chef Casper cooks up. The language is a big vulgar throughout the film, but I think it’s used wisely to convey the passion Casper feels towards his career. Hoffman has never been more stubborn as a character, Leguizamo is a terrific sidekick and Vergara makes a successful transition to feature films. Assuming I didn’t see the final cut, Chef’s road trip does run a long course, as a couple of different subplots fall by the wayside, most noticeably Scarlett Johansson. Favreau’s notion that this is a niche film should prove incorrect, as Chef is a heartwarming crowd pleaser, far more significant than his superhero past.
Favreau serves up his best entertainment yet.