Jon Favreau struck it big, both as an actor and writer, with Swingers in 1996. His stature only grew from there and he made his way into directing where he, again, found success.
Favreau soon entered the blockbuster universe with Iron Man—considered by many to be among the best of the Marvel lot—but he saw fewer returns with Iron Man 2 and 2011’s Cowboys and Aliens was a complete misfire. Maybe it’s because those two films stumbled that he decided to return to the smaller storytelling that got him initially noticed.
Whatever the reason, Chef can hardly be called a small film, but Favreau has once again found himself firing on all cylinders and the results are mouthwatering.
Not only does Favreau write and direct the film, but he takes center stage as Carl Casper, a chef who finds his world crash around him, subsequently needing to take his passion for food and funnel it into something that will not only make him successful but, more importantly to all of those around him, happy.
It’s hard not to view the film as an allegory for Favreau’s own recent struggles within the film industry. Although he’s undoubtedly successful as an actor, director and writer, Cowboys and Aliens was not only a critical and commercial disappointment, it was a financial disaster.
Just as Casper needs to refocus his life on what makes him happy—cooking—and how he can achieve that, the film packs a genuine punch of excitement that oozes off the screen. It’s clear that Favreau is having a great time with Casper as he quite literally has a meltdown in front of food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) who wrote a scathing review of his limp menu. Carl faults his restaurant’s owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman). Down, but not out, those around him only want the best for him, especially his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and their son Percy (EmJay Anthony).
With no job offers thanks to his breakdown going viral—at one point he despondently states “I’m a meme”—he takes up Inez’ offer to return to their hometown of Miami where it all began for him. While there, he finds his muse again and begins putting together a food truck, and soon his old line cook Martin (John Leguizamo) is on board as sous chef.
Perhaps more importantly, Caspar is also bonding with his son who accompanies them on their road trip back to Los Angeles and proves to be an indispensable part of their team. Casper’s strive for perfection has not only hurt him professionally but it also created a wedge between him and his son.
Like Favreau, Casper has gone back to his roots without discarding all that he’s learned along the way. The cast includes some of those Favreau has worked in the past, namely Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, and provides great parts for the likes of Bobby Cannavale and Amy Sedaris. The film is filled with an exuberance, and much of that comes from the fact that it’s evident Favreau and his cast are having a blast. But, more importantly, the audience has a blast watching them.
Chef doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor is it trying to. It’s a simple tale of recapturing that spark that begets passion, and in turn, bliss. Favreau is obviously infusing some of himself into Carl Casper, and the passion is therefore honest and true. It may not be a film that has anything to new to say, but what Favreau does say is refreshing and goes down easy.
Review: 4 out of 5