I found myself, in the opening scenes of this film, wondering why it had taken so long for a film like this to be made. Food in media is big business, the Food Network and other channels devoted to passionate cookery shows featuring a vast array of chef’s showing off their culinary constructions, are hugely popular all over the world. Here, in this film written and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), we finally have a film that centres on a chef and his passion for food.
Favreau himself plays the lead here, Carl Casper, a chef who is bored and frustrated in his job due to the constraints placed upon him by the owner of the restaurant he cooks for, and when he receives a scathing review from a food blogger and begins a Twitter-war with him, he is forced to rethink his career and the destination in which he is heading as a chef. Once thought of as an inventive and exciting new chef, Carl Casper’s career has hit an impasse, and when he goes to Miami with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and son (Emjay Anthony) he decides to begin a food truck business, and he, along with his loyal sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and his young son, Percy, takes to the road and cooks his heart out, reconnecting with his child and reinvigorating his passion for cooking along the way.
The film looks crisp and the writing is really simple and unobstructed, allowing the performances to shine and the story to unfold naturally. It’s one of those films that is just very easy to watch, it is enjoyable, warm and thoughtful, and the scenes in which Casper and his son are bonding with one another through cooking, and the cooking scenes themselves, are strong, hunger-inducing and authentic feeling. You can tell that Favreau himself cares about the topic here, and his portrayal of a chef rekindling his desire for his career is done brilliantly.
I also tip my hat to the rest of the cast who all pull their weight and help the film rise above mediocrity with their performances. The young Emjay Anthony (It’s Complicated) offers a realistic and top-notch piece of work, an eleven year old actor who was excellent here. It is a regular occurrence to come across child actors who feel wooden and uncomfortable on screen, and Anthony doesn’t here. Leguizamo (Summer of Sam), as Martin, is energetic and funny, his loyal character bringing a friendship to Casper’s life that is much-needed in this story. I always enjoy seeing Leguizamo on screen and this was no different, he shone here once again. Vergara, as Casper’s ex-wife and mother of their son, Inez, was another character I found interesting and vital to the whole feel of the movie. In many films in which the mother and father of a child are no longer “together” there is the usual dramatic feud going on, a desire to see one another fail, and that wasn’t present here, they each got along with one another, remained friends, and were supportive of each other’s lives. This was, like the film itself, a zest of freshness, like lime in iced water. The remainder of the cast, including Scarlett Johansson as waitress Molly, Dustin Hoffman as restaurant-owner Riva, Bobby Cannavale as chef and friend of Casper, Tony and Oliver Platt as the food blogger who caused the ball to begin rolling in the early portion of the film, Ramsey Michel, all do a fabulous job here. A tremendous cast that provide an undeniable quality to an excellent film, taking it to a level it may not have otherwise seen.
I enjoyed this film a lot. It isn’t deep, doesn’t do any major dramatic things and it doesn’t take a dark turn and change in tone, but for me that was part of its charm. I wanted to enjoy the film, take a ride in a food truck that made awesome looking Cuban sandwiches, and just take in the scenery and enticing looking dishes on offer. Enjoyable, fun and charming, Chef is one to watch, especially if you have an interest in cooking or films in which people rediscover themselves.