Review: Chef (2014)

“I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this.”

*This review may contain spoilers*

Chef is a comedy drama written, directed, produced by and starring Jon Favreau (Iron man, The Jungle Book), co-starring John Leguizamo, Sofía Vergara and Scarlett Johansson. When famous Chef Casper’s creativity is held back from a controlling restaurant owner, he elects to open his own food truck and travel across Los Angeles, accompanied by his estranged son and former line chef.  

I haven’t smiled this much at a movie for a long time. There is a metaphor for Favreau’s own career in Chef, after a string of successful, big-budget movies including Iron Man clearly left him craving a need to go back to basics. Chef is a combination of a passion for food and a love for cinema, which is evident from the way in which Favreau scaled down the script to focus on bringing authenticity to his kitchen. Much of this film is close up shots of the cast presenting flawless dishes or Casper explaining the intricacies and insider knowledge behind preparing the food, which could be a problem if the story wasn’t solid. Chef flutters on the edge of cliché but never quite crosses it, bringing plot beats that you have likely seen before but in Favreau’s deeply heart warming and charming style.

Much of the first two acts see Casper struggling at the restaurant or deciding on what’s next after leaving his job, which stretched the film to possibly 20 minutes more than necessary as I waited for the food truck, buddy road trip adventure to kick in. However, the 1 hour 55-minute runtime flies by when even the lower emotional beats in the film are bursting with bliss and the humour runs at a steady subtlety. An upbeat, Cuban themed soundtrack greases the rails for the cheery story, aiding audiences in empathising with the excitement of being on the road and even had me unknowingly singing along in content.

Casting is where most of the $11m budget was spent, bringing a surprisingly incredible ensemble cast that sees Favreau pulling some favours from his Marvel fame. I was taken back to see such star power from a smaller scale film with Chef’s premise. Whether it was Dustin Hoffman appearing as restaurant owner Riva, or Robert Downey Jr in a cameo as the seller of Casper’s dilapidated truck, these fun name-drops inject flare periodically throughout the film. Scarlett Johansson is present in a great scene in which she appears almost aroused at the sight of Casper’s cooking, but her character feels slightly irrelevant and packed in for the fun of it, which is not necessarily a negative of the overall story but more of an observation.

Where I found the most joy from Chef was in its three lead characters, their relationships, and the sheer pleasure they pose from cooking on the road. Casper is a layered lead, with conflicting views and emotions that Favreau nails, infusing the character with his natural likability and delivering what I believe to be his best display of his acting abilities. The character is successfully presented as wanting to be a good father to his son, Percy, but his dedication to his work has slowly eroded their relationship and understanding of one another. Like many of the films plot points, this could have been a familiar arc to force drama but Chef is grounded in its approach, with a script that feels realistic and almost improvised. Anthony is great in his portrayal of Percy and his technical skills in social media helps develop the business, with much of its popularity being owed to this young child. I really appreciated the integration of Percy into the food truck storyline, as he is built as his own integral character and not just a means to develop Casper’s own arc. Where the food truck journey could have weighed heavy with the complex father/son relationship, Leguizamo (aka. Sid the Sloth!) provides light comic relief, but also an uplifting and elated friendship to our other characters. Martin’s unwavering loyalty and optimism in Chef Casper and his fun, fatherly exchanges with Percy installs the overall sense of light-hearted fun that Chef runs on and was a cheerful pleasure to watch.

Where I expected little beneath the surface of this simpler slice of Favreau’s filmography, Chef supplies just enough substance to elevate this story from good to great. Although it is nothing pioneering, Chef can be enjoyed by anyone who has ever eaten food before! A combination of well written characters, exciting cameos and subtle humour, Chef will unwittingly take you along for a joyous ride that will keep you smiling and dancing throughout. I give Chef an 8/10!

Have you seen Chef? What did you think?! Let me know in the comments below and if you liked this review, please like, share and subscribe for more content!

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